Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Amazing – The gadget, the Technology, the Business Model and the development Process!!!

There is a site I had visited almost a year back. It looked interesting that time. It had a small application which would try to identify any object you imagine by asking 20 questions. It was an application with a learning engine. I tried it…tested with some uncommon objects and was fascinated by the accuracy by which it deduced them. As I said, this was quite some time back.

Recently while discussing with Rakesh Ravuri (You can visit his BLOG at http://www.eternalillusions.com/blog ) some new ideas for applications using AI and learning engines and I all of a sudden remembered that old little app. I did some googling and found that the application has gone places already.

Before we get into what its new avatar is, let us look up a little history. Apparently the brain behind the app, Robin Burgener programmed a simple neural net on a DOS machine way back in 1988. All that he taught the engine was 20 questions about a cat. He then passed the program around to friends on a floppy and had them challenge the app with their yes/no answers to the object they had in mind. The application (unlike we humans) kept learning from mistakes (and correct guesses as well.) So the more people tested it, the more it learnt. In 1995 Burgener hosted the application on the web for public to play with. As Kevin Kelly correctly pointed out, Burgener’s genius was to turn the hard tedious work of training a neural net into a fun game for humans. (Imagine the millions of Dollars it would have cost him otherwise!)
Last year, after a million rounds of 20 questions online, Burgener compressed the 20Q code to run on a chip, and with a select 2,000 of the most popular 10,000 objects it then knew about. In other words, he created a gadget (a toy which looks like a small sphere) which is a handheld version of his Twenty Questions web site.
So the new avatar is a $14 toy named ‘Radica 20Q’!!. You can buy it from Amazon. Before that, you might want to try out ’20 Questions’ application at http://www.20q.net/ and get fascinated while teaching the engine probably about new objects or new attributes of objects.


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