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The fight for crossword compilers in the digital age


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 Crossword puzzles. Probably a section of the newspaper you either benignly flick over, or obsessively complete. But do you ever stop to think how they are created?

A niche industry from its conception, the art of crossword creation is work to a select few known as compilers that have been supplying newspapers and their readers with crosswords since 1922. Since its conception, the world has seen a rapid digital revolution through the 20th century and shows no sign of stopping in the 21st. This is not good news for those compiling crosswords, due to a burgeoning breakthrough in artificial intelligence and computer programming that will eventually take their place.

Using a computer program to construct standard crossword puzzles as opposed to a human will be a much more cost-effective process, allowing for more puzzles to be created and processed subject to demand. This runs the risk of human creativity falling victim to the digital age and the penultimate ‘rise of the machines’.

Esteemed compiler Marc Breman, whose crosswords have featured in a variety of popular newspapers (London Evening Standard, Daily Mirror, Daily Express and the Sunday Telegraph), fears that advances in artificial intelligence – and the development of artificial personality – will render the last 100 or so compilers in Britain obsolete within 15 – 20 years. Putting it into numbers like that is jarring and highlights the advancements that are already taking place to prepare a world run more so by robots than human beings.

Whilst innovation and exploration within technology are vital, the human spirit and personality – which can be seen in the clues written by prolific compilers crossword puzzles – are integral to keep the world sane. We have enough examples of worlds run by machines to sway ourselves not to go down the same path. It only must start with one trivial thing to become a nightmare, which could easily happen via robots taking over the crossword industry.

Breman shows no sign of bowing down to the robot elite just yet; publishing his first book The Foggiest Nation this week as an alternative way of completing crossword puzzles. The clues to the classic 15x15 grid are presented to the characters of the novel, and the reader must read the narrative to fully complete the crossword.

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