Can a computer do a magic trick or help you become a better magician? According to researchers, and a new app, the answer to that question is "yes!"
Artificial intelligence researchers at the Queen Mary University in London successfully taught a computer program how to do two specific magic tricks, including a magic jigsaw puzzle and the popular "guess the card" trick.
Unlike human magic tricks that rely on sleight of hand and observation skills, the research team created a mathematical algorithm that worked so well that one of the tricks is now on sale at a London magic shop and the other is available as an Android app called Phoney.
"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," says Howard Williams, one of the algorithm's creators. "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."
The "guess the card" game is a popular one with magicians. In that trick, magicians arrange a deck of playing cards in a very specific way, memorize the order of the cards, and then prod the audience for information. After, the magician identifies the correct card.
In the Phoney app version of the game, the Android app reveals the card accurately. And it does so with less information than previously required by magicians for the trick to work. The app also saves the magician from having to learn and remember the order of the cards.
In the magic jigsaw puzzle trick, the magician puts together a series of puzzle pieces to show a shape. Then the magician takes the puzzle apart and puts it together again, but this time, those shapes disappear. Basic geometrical principles govern the trick, something the artificial intelligence algorithm can easily handle by understanding the size of the puzzle, the number of pieces, the number of shapes available and all the ways the puzzle can be arranged.
"Using AI to create magic tricks is a great way to demonstrate the possibilities of computer intelligence and it also forms a part of our research in to the psychology of being a spectator," says Professor Peter McOwan, part of research team. "For example, we suspected that audiences would be suspicious of the involvement of technology in the delivery of a trick but we've found out that isn't the case."