Introducing Unlikely AI, Ross and Crossword Genius

Unlikely AI is a small London-based startup aimed at advancing the state-of-the-art of Artificial Intelligence.

Although we want to harness the trends that are shaping the modern world we want to do things a little differently. We aim to be both product-centric and contrarian.

Being product-centric means making technology for humans. This means building products that can interact with people in a way that makes sense to them: having a conversation in natural language; producing explanations that make sense and most importantly doing magical things that delight our users and make their lives better.

Being contrarian means not being afraid of unfashionable ways forward, that nevertheless result in that magic. We want to be judged only by our products, not what techniques we are using or how mainstream our approach. (We will, of course, use mainstream techniques where they are the best choice.)

Our First Product: Crossword Genius

Today we launch our first product Crossword Genius. What we hope is a tiny first step with much more to come.

Crossword Genius is an app that solves and explains cryptic crossword clues. It also exploits advances in machine vision to lift cryptic crosswords straight off the page of a newspaper via your smartphone camera.

The experience within the app is controlled by Ross – a friendly AI who is always on hand to help you during your attempts at the puzzle.

Right now Ross can solve most of the clues that you will find in a typical cryptic crossword but he is constantly improving and learning as more and more people use him and he sees more and more clues. As people use the app and as we continue to develop him, he will get better and better.

Why cryptic crosswords?

Cryptic crosswords are a type of crossword common in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Canada. They can also be found occasionally in the New York Times and other American publications. To be understood the clues need to be read in a devious way (the ‘cryptic reading’) and when that devious way is discovered the answer is usually very clear.

In many ways solving cryptic crosswords is a classic Artificial Intelligence problem. In the UK alone there are millions of people who try to solve them. (Every daily newspaper here carries one.) They are also universally regarded as an activity which requires high levels of thought and intelligence. People attach a great deal of pride to their ability to solve crosswords – especially the more difficult ones such as from the (London) Times. Crossword competitions attract thousands of correct solutions.

However, cryptic crosswords are not a natural fit for modern machine-learning techniques like deep learning. To solve them requires reading the clue in a way that requires understanding of the meaning of the words (albeit often an unconventional meaning). Furthermore, having the answer simply generated by a black box is not sufficient. To convince a human that the answer is correct requires giving the understanding too. Only when that interpretation is seen will anyone have the confidence to write the answer into the grid.

Ross attempts to do all that – providing answers as well as a full, honest attempt to explain how the answer is generated by the clue. Sometimes the explanation is perfect, sometimes Ross’ answer is imperfect but enough for the human to fill in the gaps. Ross aims to be completely honest about what he does and does not understand – and the explanations reveal that in detail.

What is next?

Although millions of people solve cryptic crosswords daily, solving cryptic crosswords is somewhat of a fun first project. AI has the potential to change the world far more profoundly and this is what we aim to do. We will be continuing to develop Ross and Crossword Genius but will also be adapting many of the ideas for further, far bigger applications in the future. Watch this space.

Learn about the upcoming Android app
Crossword Genius main site
More about Unlikely AI’s principles

  1. Mike on June 24, 2020 at 7:03 am

    Are you planning an android release at all?

    • Harry on August 30, 2022 at 1:07 pm

      Hi Mike, you can get notified when we release the Android version by signing up here!

  2. Phil on March 14, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Cryptic-solving dog puts his heart into reversing Soviet state’s lack of uranium (4)

  3. ivor kuzyk on June 29, 2022 at 11:26 am

    please explain crytic clue SPOONER’S GRAVE RECORDS VESSELS ON CANAL (answer NARROW BOATS)

    • Harry on August 30, 2022 at 1:28 pm

      This clue is a Spoonerism (opening consonants swapped round) of ‘barrow’+’notes’. ‘barrow’ = an old burial mound. ‘notes’ = records.

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