20Q is a computerized game of twenty questions that began as an experiment in artificial intelligence. It was invented by Robin Burgener. The game is based on the spoken parlor game known as twenty questions. 20Q asks the player to think of something and will then try to guess what they are thinking of with twenty yes-or-no questions.

If it fails to guess in 20 questions, it will ask an additional 5 questions. If it fails to guess even with 25 questions, the player is declared the winner.

20Q learns on its own with the information relayed back to the players who interact with it, and is not programmed. The player can answer these questions with: Yes, No, Unknown, Irrelevant, Sometimes, Probably or Doubtful. The experiment is based on the computer game ‘Animals,’ popular in the early 1970s, which used a somewhat simpler method to guess an animal.

20Q can learn and adapt. For example, if the player was thinking of a ‘Horse’ and answered ‘No’ to the question ‘Is it an animal?,’ the AI will, nevertheless, guess correctly, despite being told that a horse is not an animal.

The success rate of the online AI is between 73 to 78 percent. The real success rate could be higher, but the algorithm was adapted to make it more interesting for the players; if the artificial intelligence won every game, all the time, as it is theoretically capable of doing within a finite framework, it would not be very interesting to play, and the AI would not continue to learn.


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