IF to welcome our new robot masters?

A cogent response by Stephen Granade to the question of whether the victory of the Jeopardy!-dominating computer suggests that modern interactive fiction should move to adopt more heavy-duty natural-language processing in its player interface.

Even if you had a perfect parser that could understand everything you typed, the game has to know what to do with it. Parsing is no good if you don’t do something with the results. Watson’s processing power let it parse text input and, based on that and its knowledge of how Jeopardy! answers are structured, make inferences about what related question fit the input. How much power would a game need to respond appropriately to sentences like ‘What have I been doing?’ or ‘Measure out my life in coffee spoons’?

Take the case of an IF parser that accepted adverbs. Current IF parsers accept commands that are of the form VERB THE ADJECTIVE NOUN, occasionally with an added preposition and second noun: ‘PUT THE BOX ON THE TABLE’, ‘OPEN THE RED DOOR’, and similar. Now add in adverbs, so that you can ‘OPEN THE RED DOOR SLOWLY’ or ‘PUT THE COFFEE CUP DOWN QUICKLY’. Now the game must decide the difference between putting something down quickly or slowly. What does it mean in game terms to TURN THE KNOB ANGRILY? You’ve added more nuance to a player’s interaction with the game world, and the IF author has to handle that nuance. It’s more work for the IF author; does it add enough to the game to be worth that work?

And in case you missed it last week, you should read Ken Jennings' entertaining and insightful observations on being one of the soft and fleshy humans that Watson coldly obliterated on national TV, a mere demonstration of our new computer overlords' powers.

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