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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

Updated 33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.

White House says it expects federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said in new guidance Friday that it expects millions of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus no later than Dec. 8.

Why it matters: Companies with federal contractors have been waiting for formal guidance from the White House before requiring those employees to get vaccinated, according to Reuters.