Scientists are using the popular drawing game Pictionary to teach artificial intelligence common sense.

AI researchers at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), a non-profit lab in Seattle, developed a version of the game called Iconary in order to teach its AllenAI artificial intelligence abstract concepts from pictures alone.

Iconary was made public on 5 February in order to encourage people to play the game with AllenAI. By learning from humans, the researchers hope AllenAI will continue to develop common sense reasoning.


“Iconary is one of the first times an AI system is paired in a collaborative game with a human player instead of antagonistically working against them,” the Iconary website states.

AllenAI is capable of both understanding and producing a nearly infinite combination of real-world scenarios represented in the phrases in Iconary, a compelling example of the potential of common sense for AI and the power of human-AI collaboration.”

Human players can either choose to draw an image or guess a picture that the AllenAI has drawn. The difficulty ranges from simple phrases like “woman kicking the football”, to more complex concepts like “celebrating a festival”.

Crucially, the AI has never seen these phrases before and must either guess them from images drawn by the human player, or convey them to the human through its own series of images.

The difficulty in teaching artificial intelligence common sense has proved to be one of the key stumbling blocks in developing chatbots and voice assistants that are genuinely multi-purpose.

“This is a first step toward exploiting common sense,” said Aniruddha Kembhavi, a computer scientist who worked on the project.

Fellow computer scientist Ali Farhadi added: “We wanted to build an AI system that can collaborate with human beings, and at the same time is learning about how humans think, how they act… I actually kind of feel that this system is connecting to me deep in my thoughts.”

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