Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For several years, computers have made short work of human champions in Go and chess. Now, artificial intelligence researchers are attempting an improbable path even closer to human capability: Pictionary, a guessing game requiring not strategy but the hard-to-duplicate quality of common sense.

Why it matters: The effort to play with humans — rather than against them — is a step toward an optimistic future of work in which AI cooperates with people to complete tasks, rather than wiping out workers in large numbers.

Driving the news: Researchers at Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence have developed an AI program that can play both sides of Pictionary, a game in which one player draws a picture to represent a word or phrase for the other player to guess.

  • The big picture: Pictionary only seems straightforward. Like so many tasks that come naturally to children, it's a challenge for even the most advanced AI.
  • That's because it requires a grasp of nebulous concepts that are common sense to humans, but that no one has figured out how to easily teach computers.
  • Try the game here.

It's impressively good, but doesn't quite feel like a grandmaster yet. But if the Allen researchers can make the leap from where they are now to mastering common sense, they will have accomplished a lot. It is hard to define precisely, but it's an underestimated and central human quality, essential for communication.

  • An important point: It's also a key stepping stone to machine intelligence that matches or surpasses human capabilities.

What they did: The Allen researchers' AI watched humans play 100,000 games. Meanwhile, it was also taught how to find words that have characteristics in common — like bread, fruit, and food. Listen to Oren Etzioni, Allen's CEO:

"Whenever the AI is taking a concept or idea that doesn’t have a corresponding icon, it’s forced to use its learned common-sense knowledge to figure out how a combination of icons can be used to effectively communicate the concept to a person. The space of possible icon combinations is in the trillions, but AllenAI learns how to do it quite well."

I had a couple of experts play the game:

  • Stefaan Verhulst, who researches human–computer interaction at New York University, told me that the AI reasons its way to a guess like a human would. That's something that would be useful, say, where a computer is missing important information and has to fill in the blanks, he said.
  • But, but, but: Dileep George, co-founder of the AI company Vicarious, said the player is still far from exhibiting genuine common sense. He likened it to the auto-complete feature on smartphones — a system that can guess what a user intends to type, but doesn't have a deep understanding of the world.

Watching the computer tells us something about people, too. Since the AI trained by watching humans play, it has absorbed some human biases.

  • In one game, I was assigned the phrase "couple buying a car." I drew two men, a dollar bill, and a car, but the system couldn't guess the phrase. I added a wedding ring between the men, but it still didn't understand.
  • When I changed one of the men to a women, the AI immediately guessed correctly.
  • This type of mistake — where AI reflects the narrow point of view of the humans it learns from — is a common problem. When AI systems are in charge of hiring, doling out loans, or evaluating parole applications, the danger of creeping bias is far greater.

My thought bubble: The AI is better at guessing than drawing. If a player asks for a new drawing when he or she can't immediately guess the phrase, the AI can get stuck.

  • This is a difficult situation, because the computer must "proactively adapt if [its] human partner cannot guess," says Ani Kembhavi, a researcher at the Allen Institute. It must know what to add that will get the person across the finish line.
  • Figuring out how to fill in the gaps when a person isn't understanding is key to human–machine communication.

Go deeper

Biden rejects Trump's latest executive privilege claims

Photo: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Monday rejected two more of former President Trump's claims of executive privilege over documents that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot requested, CNN first reported.

Why it matters: Trump's legal team is seeking to block some of the panel's requests for records by invoking executive privilege, which can allow presidents and their aides to sidestep congressional scrutiny. The Biden administration has maintained that it will evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Amazon warehouse workers in New York file petition to hold unionization vote

Amazon workers and their supporters rally outside the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Brooklyn, New York City, after filing a petition requesting an election to form a union. Photo: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon warehouse workers in New York City filed a petition on Monday with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a vote on unionization.

Why it matters: The move comes six months after an organizing effort was defeated at Amazon's distribution center in Alabama.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.S. freezes aid to Sudan over military coup

Protesting the coup in Khartoum. Photo: AFP via Getty

The Biden administration froze a $700 million aid package to Sudan after a military coup on Monday threatened to end the country's transition toward democracy.

Driving the news: At least three protesters have been killed and dozens wounded in the chaotic scenes that followed the announcements from Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling council, dissolving the government and declaring a state of emergency.