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A good magic trick makes you feel like an impossible event has just occurred right in front of your eyes. Most magical effects are direct and simple to experience, but a fiendish complexity can lie behind the scenes that is hard to work out. The methods behind some tricks are so complex no-one would ever believe the magician would go to such enormous lengths to pull off such a simple seeming trick. Other tricks are based on very simple techniques that have an equally strong effect. It’s often all about the performance. Magicians will do almost anything to make you gasp in wonder, and go to similar lengths to prevent you finding out how they did it.

Magicians are constantly looking for new ways to wow an audience. Our research is focused on finding new tools to help them.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a field of Computer Science dedicated to finding ways to program computers to give them ever more sophisticated means to solve problems and discover new information from huge amounts of data.

In this paper we have researched making new magic tricks using AI techniques. With help from magicians, who have revealed some of their secret methods, we have been able to create a computer program that suggests new magic tricks; a kind of digital magician’s assistant. To date the tricks are based on mathematical principles, which makes them ideal candidates to be simulated and manipulated inside a computer.

This computer program, fed with information about how real people perceive the world, is able to direct all its computing abilities at complex problems that would otherwise take humans a very long time to solve, and churn out new magical versions of tricks that should amaze an audience.

Amongst the recent tricks this digital assistant has come up with are a magical jigsaw puzzle where shapes appear and vanish, and a card trick during which a mobile phone appears to read the mind of a spectator. When performed well, the tricks really do leave the spectator thinking magic has occurred. We know this because, being scientists, we tested the tricks out to see how mystifying they were.

People will probably always prefer to have magic performed for them by a real person, but what magician wouldn’t want a handy AI assistant around to help them craft their next masterpiece? The audience need never know.

The full paper can be found here:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01283/abstract

Howard Williams and Peter McOwan

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