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Victor Is A Robot That's Better At Trash Talking Than Scrabble

"If I had $1 for every good word I played, I would still hate you," Victor grumbles, defeated yet again by a human opponent. The trash-talking robot has spent the last year and a half playing scrabble in Carnegie Mellon University's computer science lounge. Believe it or not, he's actually not very good at what it does; Victor is a far better trash talker than he is a wordsmith.

Professor Reid Simmons first began development on Victor back in 2009, in order to test how robots could "interact with people in a more natural way." According to Simmons, if robots are truly going to find their way into more common household roles, they'll need to be more companionable than, say, our dishwashers or refrigerators. To that end, he decided the best way to 'train' such a robot would be to have it play Scrabble - primarily because it's a game most people know how to play. 

With the help of his students, he's been training Victor to both talk and play Scrabble. It's still a work in progress, sadly - although Victor's quite the conversationalist when he actually works, he still suffers from frequent lock-ups, and has the occasional tendency to repeat himself, besides. Minor glitches, at best.

Victor's expresses himself through a box-shaped computer screen perched atop a fiberglass body. Victor's 'face' is that of a prototypical hipster: short, shaggy blonde hair, rectangular glasses, and a soul patch. His facial expressions and his acerbic remarks were the work of CMU's drama department. 

What Victor says naturally depends on how the game is going. When he's winning, he tends to be boastful, arrogant, and genuinely unpleasant. When he loses, he's usually a poor sport about it, blaming luck or simply trumpeting his hatred for the game. Somehow, this negativity...actually ends up being pretty funny.

Now, in order to ensure a level playing field, Simmons has intentionally crippled Victor. He's only got access to 8,592 words drawn from "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," rather than the 178,691 in the Scrabble tournament dictionary. He also doesn't know how to play strategically - he's incapable, for example, of looking two or three moves ahead.

Even Simmons - who describes himself as a mediocre Scrabble player, at best - usually manages to defeat his creation. 

As such, when Victor played against Dorcas Alexander, one of the top-ranked human Scrabble players in Pennsylvania; the match went about as well as you'd expect: she completely thrashed him. 

When she first introduced herself, Victor was upbeat (and more than a little snide). Naturally, that attitude didn't last particularly long. As the match wore on, Victor quickly descended into a sullen, glowering silence, only occasionally speaking up to complain at or belittle Alexander.

"I can't believe your feeble mind was able to play that word," Victor growled, glaring at his opponent. Alexander was unphased. 

"This feeble mind is winning." 

In her second game against Victor, she intentionally dumbed down her plays, curious to see how Victor would respond if he were to win. The results, again, were fairly predictable: instead of being a sulk, Victor turned into an arrogant, blustering blowhard.

"Your word scored less than a CMU student at a party," he sneered after a particularly weak play from Alexander. 

His moment of glory didn't last terribly long, though. Even though she had originally intended to let the robot win this one, she couldn't resist crushing his hopes, playing "insetter" and putting down a word worth 113 points. 

Victor glared down at the board, and slumped into a sulk. "Don't get happy just because you're ahead of me," he muttered. Eventually, the research behind Victor might be used to make more personable robots, machines capable of carrying on full conversations. For now, though?

We've managed to build ourselves an amusing - if incredibly horrendous - Scrabble player.