Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Made In Mainland China

Say what you will about goods and merchandise manufactured in China. When the manufacturer has high enough standards the resulting product is sturdy, robust, well made in accordance with its design specifications. I have, sitting before me, a bright little object that is responsible for many hours of entertainment. It's a little fount of pleasure, used on occasion to brighten a few moments when one has an urge to while away a few idle bits of time.

Its name is Q20. Translated as '20 questions'. That's the number of questions this intelligent little device will sling at you before drawing an informed conclusion, and guessing exactly what you had in mind when tasking it with guessing what you had chosen for it to draw on its artificial intelligence resources to respond to. Each of your responses, urged by the succeeding questions lobbed by the Q20, helps it to draw its correct conclusion.

And invariably, the answer concluding the little ritual of challenge-and-response, does turn out to be amazingly correct. If, on the rare occasion, this little gem offers a wrong answer, it will attempt again to ponder, asking another five questions to re-orient its thinking cap and proffer another response - invariably correct. It's a wondrous little toy, Canadian-invented, honed further by allowing Internet-practise-use at its web site, before the toy was ready for market.

The initial production run was a success, and yet a failure. The reason being that the little Q20 was so accurate, there were no wrong answers, causing its users some disgruntlement. The inventors had to resort to dumbing it down a bit, so users might occasionally have the triumph of receiving a wrong response. Even so, the cocky little thing would dare you to have another go.

When, after you've responded to the correct answer that yes, it was right, it virtually leaps with joy, poking fun at you, trilling, "was that the best you could do?" in challenging its intelligence. Throughout the 20-question course before arriving at the solution, it will fling little taunts across its slender screen: "think you're so smart, don't you?".

Even occasionally, admitting "You win!", only to immediately retort "Just Kidding!" and cheekily dance the letters up and down in a working parody of a child in glee. When you initiate the process, you're first asked the category: animal, vegetable, mineral or other. After that first selection, the game is set to go and a series of rapid-fire but thoughtful questions ensue. With a slight pause between each response, as though your little pet-mind is carefully weighing the import of the answer.

Your answers to these keen series of questions fall into the categories of "no", "yes", "unknown" or "sometimes". Even when, on occasion, you might let an inaccurate response slip by in your haste to answer, clever little Q20 will come up with the correct answer. It is deliberately confounding, mischievous, clever, challenging, a treat for anyone's restless mind; an almost-companion.

I've had this little piece of entertainment for a few years. We originally bought one for our granddaughter, to help entertain her, just incidentally improve her reading speed, and increase her knowledge base. She's been through several of them by now, after about four years of use. And I have my own, that she can use when she visits. I hadn't used mine for over a year, but this afternoon picked it up and gave it a bit of a run.

I'd been reading the newspapers, and selected a few random words out of various news items. Most of the topics I'd selected in the past fell under the categories of "animal" or "vegetable". I had a series of four objects this time that all fell under "mineral". And, one after the other, my witty little Q20 guessed them all with stunning accuracy: "hand grenade", "tank", helicopter", and "shovel".

It's encased in a thick, slick plastic exterior, in bright colours of either red or purple. It's the size of a flattened baseball, round but not deep. Fitting comfortably into your palm, resting on the hell of your hand. The sound can be controlled - it beeps and hums along in short little bursts of tonal activity - and its response rate can be accelerated or decelerated. Little buttons of response-to-queries are set in a row just below the text screen.

It demands respect for its resourceful management of intelligence, its ability to sort data and synthesize toward an awesomely accurate conclusion. This is a thinking toy, an impudent little source of fun.

Developed in Canada. Manufactured in China. Priced relatively modestly at roughly $25(Cdn)

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