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A game of Codenames. Photo: Kaveh Waddell/Axios

It's one thing to play chess against a computer — you'll lose — but it's another entirely to play a collaborative word game. That stretches the limits of today's AI.

What's happening: Game geeks are trying to create bots that can play Codenames, the super-popular word guessing game.

  • It's played with two teams and a board with 25 words, like in the photo above.
  • Each turn, one person tries to come up with a single-word clue linking as many of the 25 words as possible; then, that person's teammates try to guess as many words as they can.

Giving a good clue is pretty easy for computers, using basic open-source machine learning tools for language understanding.

  • "I was surprised at how well it worked," said David Kirkby, an astrophysicist at UC Irvine who programmed a Codenames bot for fun. "It came up with clues which weren't obvious to me — but they made sense."
  • Kirkby's bot once gave the clue "Wrestlemania" to connect the words "undertaker" and "match."
  • Another bot coded by Jeremy Neiman, an engineer at Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs, used "telemedicine" to connect "ambulance," "hospital," "link" and "web."

What's really hard is guessing whether your teammates will understand your clue. This is something humans are great at — if you're playing with a sibling or friend, you can draw on shared experiences to come up with the perfect word.

  • The next big step is to create bots that develop an understanding of their teammates over the course of several games, says Adam Summerville, a professor at CalPoly Pomona who hosts Codenames AI competitions.
  • Achieving this goal is key to making robots that communicate better with people to accomplish a shared task.

Go deeper

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.