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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

Coronavirus hospitalizations top 100,000 for the first time

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking ProjectHarvard Global Health Institute; Cartogram: Danielle Alberti and Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 100,000 Americans are now in the hospital with coronavirus infections — a new record, an indication that the pandemic is continuing to get worse and a reminder that the virus is still very dangerous.

Why it matters: Hospitalizations are a way to measure severe illnesses — and severe illnesses are on the rise across the U.S. In some areas, health systems and health care workers are already overwhelmed, and outbreaks are only getting worse.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
16 mins ago - Economy & Business

Our make-believe economy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Reserve and global central banks are remaking the world's economy in an effort to save it, but have created something of a monster.

Why it matters: The Fed-driven economy relies on the creation of trillions of dollars — literally out of thin air — that are used to purchase bonds and push money into a pandemic-ravaged economy that has long been dependent on free cash and is only growing more addicted.

New hope for "smart cities"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's time to polish our gleaming vision of urban environments where internet technology makes everything from finding a parking space to measuring air quality a snap.

Why it matters: The Biden administration's Cabinet appointees are likely to be champions of bold futurism in urban planning — which could mean that smart infrastructure projects, like broadband deployment and digital city services, get fresh funding and momentum.