The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - September 2

Computers won a points victory over human crossword puzzle enthusiasts at a contest organised during the European Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Trento. The computers were equipped with sophisticated new puzzle-solving software developed by IT experts at Siena university. The 'Web Crow' software makes extensive use of the Internet to search for answers. The human participants had just their own brains.

The contest involved solving five cryptic crosswords as fast as possible: two in English, two in Italian and one in which the clues were bilingual. The flesh-and-blood contestants, many of whom participated via internet from home, tackled only the puzzles in their own language, plus the bilingual one, while the computers did them all.

The final result was that humans lost to machines on the English and bilingual puzzles but won on the Italian ones. "Probably this was because there are far more words on the Internet in English than in Italian," said Prof. Marco Gori, one of the Web Crow developers."The computers would have been able to track down more answers". He said the higher number of Italian-speaking participants probably also meant there was a better chance that at least one would finish before the computers did.

The crossword competition was held partly in order to test the ability of Webcrow to carry out complex linguistic operations normally seen as the undisputed domain of humans.