CMU’s Scrabble-Playing Robot Is Insulting, Just Like a Human

Welcome to the new frontier of human-computer interaction: realistic haters.

Photo via Flickr


As anyone who has ever played an online video game or read an athlete’s Twitter feed can tell you, “the haters” are everywhere. Hating has become so ingrained in our competitive culture that playing Xbox or Solitaire against a computer opponent now is devoid of that magical, hateful je ne sais quoi.

Carnegie Mellon’s robotics and drama departments have teamed up to fix that very problem. “Victor” is a Scrabble-playing robot who trash talks like a real person, according to this fascinating article from The Wall Street Journal. First designed in 2009 by robotics professor Reid Simmons and his pupils, Victor’s personality has been refined, thanks to hundreds of lines of trollish dialogue written by drama students.

Did you goof trying to use a made-up word? “This is not happy land of make believe. We only use real words,” Victor chastises.

Victor’s digital face even features imminently hateable box-framed glasses, swept-over bangs and a soul patch. For all his braggadocio, at least Victor — who explains that he came to CMU on a Scrabble scholarship — seems to have some self-awareness.

“Your word scored less than a CMU student at a party,” he deadpans in this WSJ video.

Ouch. Et tu, Victor?


Barbs aside, there’s a larger point of the project than simply aligning bot culture with cynical modern times. As autonomous robots are expected to take over household tasks and even contribute in assisted living homes in the future, Simmons is just one of many researchers attempting to cultivate a more dynamic bot personality than ho-hum Siri.

We’re into it. The only thing creepier than a hyper-friendly robot? Real friends who don’t make fun of each other.


#Aww: Prepare to fall in love with Pittsburgh’s three mayoral “canine-didates”


The race for the ’Burgh’s top dog is on. It’s all bark and no bite. No, we’re not talking about city politics. When these candidates play tug of war, it’s cute.

For its “My Dog for Mayor!” campaign, DOGTV reviewed submissions from pooch owners nationwide. It’ll choose one “mayor” in 100 U.S. cities — including Pittsburgh. There currently are three local “canine-didates” — and you can vote for your favorite on the channel’s Facebook page until Thursday.

These pooches won’t be making any last-ditch attempts to secure a victory; they have too much dignity.

Instead, Lady Godiva, a labrador retriever from McKees Rocks, has pursued the win through an unrelenting campaign of begging. She’s not the only one in the fight, though: Hurley, a local weimaraner, may hide a shrewd “paw-litical” mind behind his slack-jawed panting.

While these two contenders have put up fierce — OK, adorable — campaigns, the frontrunner for the city’s first Canis mayorus may be Kodah, a Siberian husky with dreamy blue eyes that could convince even the staunchest opponents to throw him a bone.

One of these three contenders will be named the victor on March 25.

— Gideon Bradshaw


#Celebs: Jesse Pinkman is in the ’Burgh, b****


Hey, look. Aaron Paul (who played Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad” — for those who weren’t raised properly and did not watch the show) is in Pittsburgh. What’s he doing here? Go karting? Making giant magnets? Eating pizza?

No, unfortunately. Paul is here shooting the flick “Fathers and Daughters” with Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe.


#Sports: Does James Harrison long to be a Steeler (again)?

It sure sounds like it, from his comments on NFL Network this morning.

Harrison promised to play “until the wheels fall off.” We don’t doubt that for a moment. With LaMarr Woodley gone, it could be a possibility if Harrison would accept a backup role. As a third-down pass rush specialist, why not? Dude is still squatting 625 and hunting sharks.

Categories: The 412