Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies. Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, by Douglas Hofstadter and the Fluid Analogies Research Group
The Countdown Conundrum is one of the most intriguing Artificial Intelligence (AI) concepts to me. How does that one contestant manage to magically rearrange those nine letters into a word so quickly, and can a computer ever be as intelligent?
Sure, you can do what the ear-piece wearing Dictionary Corner do and listen to the backroom staff who have access to any number of tools like puzzlex and Anagrammer, but Douglas Hofstadter and the Fluid Analysis Research Group try to model the human brain when looking for the only nine-letter word from this sequence of letters:
The two ways to solve this are a straight dictionary attack, where you blindly compare every letter combination against words in a known dictionary:
and very quickly you'll come up with the word. In 0.113 seconds, actually.
But that's no fun. FARG's aim is to model the human brain and the way it can 'glom' (their term) certain groups of letters together because that's the way the human brain does it. The ending -ING is one obvious combination, and in this case -TION jumps out at you. More importantly, once you have those letters in your mind (and we casually slip from referring to it as the brain to referring to it as the mind) they are now off the Scrabble rack and we are left with only:
to (instantly?) give us VARIATION. All within a few seconds of the Countdown clock starting.
This is only one chapter of what I think is Hofstadter's most underrated book. It helps that most of it is written by his students rather than him, as it gives them full rein and the man himself doesn't overpower what is really their work.