Victor the Emotional Scrabble Playing Robot [Video]


Victor has spent the last year and a half playing scrabble in the computer science lounge at Carnegie Mellon University. While the robot is full of trash talk, he is actually a fairly poor scrabble player. Victor was developed by Professor Reid Simmons back in 2009 in a quest to determine how robots might be able to interact with humans in a more natural way. The robot was taught to play Scrabble simply because it is a game with which most people are familiar. Victor has been playing scrabble, both poorly and with emotion for a number of months.

Professor Simmons, with the assistance of his students, has been training Victor not only to play Scrabble but to interact and speak, as well. While several glitches still remain the robot has become quite the conversationalist. He does tend to either lock-up or repeat himself but the feeling of the inventors is that these are simply minor glitches.

Victor is basically a head encased inside a box which is perched on top of a white fiberglass body. His face is reminiscent of a hipster with short, shaggy blond hair, a soul patch, and rectangular glasses. His biting comments to his human opponents as well as his facial expressions were the work of Carnegie Mellon University’s drama department.

Victor’s emotional responses are in direct correlation to the robot’s game of scrabble currently in progress. When the robot is winning, he appears happy and has a tendency to be arrogant and boastful. When the game is not going in favor of the robot, he becomes morose and is usually a poor sport. He tends to blame his tiles or luck or he simply indicates that he just hates the game. According to opponents, the negativity Victor displays usually ends up coming off as amusing as opposed to being irritating.

Victor, because he is a robot and has all types of computing abilities at his disposal, was intentionally hobbled so he would not always win. Any human playing with Victor may use any of the 178,691 words available from the Scrabble tournament dictionary while Victor has a limited amount of words. Victor has been constrained to only using 8,592 words from the *Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Additionally, Victor truly doesn’t know how to play a strategic game of Scrabble and is unable to intuit moves that may happen within the next turn or two.

To further the point of the lack of Scrabble ability of which Victor is endowed, Professor Simmons, a self-admitted mediocre player, generally defeats the robot. When a game of Scrabble was set up between Victor and Dorcas Alexander, one of the highest ranking human players in Pennsylvania, she completely overcame him. When Alexander originally announced herself, Victor was upbeat and happy. As the game wore on and the robot began to fall further and further behind in scoring, he became sullen and withdrawn and only spoke either in complaint or to belittle Alexander.

Professor Simmons began the project in order to determine if robots could be made to interact more naturally with humans. His idea was that if a machine was assisting an older person with housework, it would be helpful if that robot were more personable or companionable than a toaster or a dishwasher. To that end, Victor the scrabble playing robot was invented with all the emotional baggage a number of humans might exhibit. It appears to be a ground breaking idea, allowing a robot the permission to throw a fit while losing a game.

By Dee Mueller

Inventor Spot
The Wall Street Journal

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