Crosswords at the crossroads with il computer enigmista?

Nature reports that Italian researchers Marco Gori and Marco Ernandes have developed Web Crow, a program that automatically reads a crossword clue, then Googles it to get an answer from the web, and works in any (?) language. This spells the end of crosswords as a frontier of human intelligence, rather as chess machines have relegated the game of queens to database technology, even though people will continue to get enjoyment from solving them. Interestingly, the Nature report is headlined ‘multilingual algorithm’, but the exact nature of Web Crow may be more complicated. An Italian report of September 27 says:

Per il momento il programma enigmista funziona soltanto in lingua inglese (it only works in English for the time being). Il prossimo sarà farlo funzionare in italiano (Italian next). “Ma la vera sfida – ha detto Gori – sarà farlo funzionare in tutte le lingue, grazie alla tecnologia dei motori di ricerca (but the real challenge (sic) will be to make it work in all languages, using search engine technology)”.

In other words, the multilinguality dimension is in the total application environment – including search technology – rather than in the core technology.

Question: do all literate alphabetic cultures have a repertoire of crossword type games?

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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