Researchers Train Computers To Make Up Magic Tricks

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic but what if the technology actually creates magic? A group of researchers at the Queen Mary University of London have trained a computer to create magic tricks using puzzle pieces and cards that are reproducible by humans. This isn’t HAL sawing a woman in half, however. The tricks are very basic mathematical problems – reorganizing a puzzle so certain images or parts seem to disappear, for example – but they allow for the simulation of creativity on the computer’s part.

Another trick, a mind-reading card illusion, allows a magician to reorganize a deck and then, using “a few seemingly innocuous pieces of information from the audience,” pull certain cards out of the deck to amaze the audience. Again, this isn’t David Copperfield qualuty stuff. In fact it’s more like Robocop learning to tell a joke by offering up permutations of “Why did the chicken cross the road?” until someone laughs.

From the release:

The magic jigsaw involves assembling a jigsaw to show a series shapes, then taking it apart and reassembling it so that certain shapes have disappeared using a clever geometric principle. Creation of tricks of this kind involve several simultaneous factors such as the size of the puzzle, the number of pieces involved, the number of shapes that appear and disappear and the ways that the puzzle can be arranged. Something this complex is ideal for an algorithm to process, and make decisions about which flexible factors are most important.

The mind reading card trick involves arranging a deck of playing cards in a specific way then, based on a few seemingly innocuous pieces of information from the audience, identifying a card that has been seen selected from the deck and using an Android app to reveal the card on a mobile phone screen. The computer was used to arrange the decks in such a way that a specific card could be identified with the least amount of information possible. The program identified arrangements for the deck that on average required one fewer question to be asked before the card was found than with the traditional method. The app simply avoids the magician having to remember the order of the cards.

You can actually the mind-reading trick by downloading the Phoney App for Android.

“Computer intelligence can process much larger amounts of information and run through all the possible outcomes in a way that is almost impossible for a person to do on their own. So while, a member of the audience might have seen a variation on this trick before, the AI can now use psychological and mathematical principles to create lots of different versions and keep audiences guessing,” said co-creator Howard Williams.