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CMU’s Scrabble-Playing Robot A Bit Of A Trash Talker

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(Photo Credit: KDKA Photojournalist Dave Forstate)

(Photo Credit: KDKA Photojournalist Dave Forstate)

CRAWLEY Dave Crawley
Dave Crawley joined KDKA in April of 1988 where he reports on the...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “Victor” is rarely at a loss for words.

He is a Scrabble-playing robot, programmed by the robotics department at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also a bit of a trash talker.

Professor Reid Simmons and research technician Greg Armstrong never know what “Victor” will say next, even though they, and a team of CMU grad students, spent five years building him.

“The research here is not in getting the robot to play Scrabble, but in getting him to interact with people,” Armstrong says.

Unlike those robots that defeat chess masters and excel on Jeopardy, “Victor” is programmed to be an average Scrabble player.

“We don’t want people to be beaten all the time,” Simmons explains, “because then they won’t come back.”

The story line is that “Victor” is a CMU freshman whose parents were assembly line robots in Detroit.

Among his retorts, he’ll say, “Did you cheat? If not, congratulations.”

“When he’s losing, he’s cranky, and when he’s cranky, he’s very sarcastic and trash talks a lot,” says Professor Simmons.

The professor adds that it’s not all fun and games.

“We’re looking at is having robots in people’s homes, particularly helping the elderly and people with disabilities live independently for longer periods of time,” he said.

The robot is now being taught to respond to other players’ trash talk.

“If he’s going to give it,” Simmons says, “he has to be able to take it, too.”

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