The crossword assistant is just a demo of how deep learning is improving machines' ability to understand language, said Felix Hill, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge and lead author of a paper describing the research. In deep learning, researchers train artificial neural networks that learn naturally from massive amounts of data to recreate human abilities. And this makes it a surprisingly robust question and answer system -- and quite good at solving crossword puzzles," Hill said. After training on dictionaries and Wikipedia, the deep learning system isn't exactly steeped in cultural awareness.
The web-based system, developed by researchers from the UK, US and Canada, makes use of artificial neural networks, which are based on the brain's own learning systems. The researchers trained the system to understand words, phrases and sentences by feeding it hundreds of thousands of definitions of English words from six dictionaries, as well as Wikipedia. "Despite recent progress in AI, problems involving language understanding are particularly difficult," says Hill. "One of the biggest challenges in training computers to understand language is recreating the many rich and diverse information sources available to humans when they learn to speak and read."