Here’s What That Engaging And Wildly Popular Game Wordle Can Teach You About AI Self-Driving Cars


Which do you prefer, vowels or consonants?

I’ll help you decide, just in case you are on the fence.

Consider the word A-U-D-I-O which I’ve spelled out by separating each letter via a hyphen, showcasing a five-letter word that has nearly all vowels. You’ll want to remember this word since I’ll be looping back to it in a moment or two.

Another word to mull over is P-S-Y-C-H or the word C-R-Y-P-T. Those fascinating words lack vowels and seem to be adoring consonants.

Does all of that inform your thinking about whether to have a preference toward vowels over consonants or instead relish consonants over vowels?

The odds are that you are still clinging to a predisposition about vowels versus consonants, or it is a matter that you find rather vacuous and not at all worthy of your precious time and attention. I would say this, if you are caught up in the feverish desire to play a game known as Wordle, which has suddenly gotten massive headlines and become a social media darling, the debate about vowels and consonants is near-and-dear, possibly even something worthy of your rapt concentration every waking moment of the day.

Let’s back up then and clarify what Wordle is and why it has emerged recently as the hottest online game to be played by everyone, everywhere, regardless of profession, focus, or predilections.

In brief, Wordle is an online web-based game that seems exceedingly simple.

You are presented with the challenge of guessing a secret five-letter word. You do not know beforehand what the word is. You are allowed to guess which letters might exist in the five-letter word. This guessing is undertaken via a series of successive five-letter word guesses that you are allowed to enter, one five-letter word guess at a time. Excitingly, you win the game if you guess the word prior to using up six guesses. Sadly, crestfallenly, you lose the game if you don’t guess the word by the end of the sixth guess.

Upon using up your six guesses, and assuming you haven’t yet successfully guessed the word, the secret five-letter word is displayed. You can then stare blankly at the word and pummel your own mind with regrets and sorrow that you didn’t guess the word. I suppose a more upbeat perspective is to suggest that you would stridently study the word and convince yourself that if you ever need to guess that secret word again, you’ll nail it readily.

I realize that this kind of game sounds quite similar to zillions of like games. We all pretty much played the classic Hangman game while in our youth, a mystery word guessing game that resembles Wordle (we might more aptly restate that phrasing to indicate that Wordle resembles Hangman, accordingly and justifiably giving due credit to the longstanding timeless Hangman).

It would seem that there is nothing especially outstanding or unique about Wordle, which makes one wonder why it has garnered such grandiose and sudden acclaim. I assure you that those diehard fans of Wordle would be more than happy to effusively tell you why Wordle is the best game ever.

Before we dive into the basis for the loyalty (stickiness) and overall allure of Wordle, let’s get into some additional background facets.

The online game was essentially developed by a software developer named Josh Wardle (notice the similarity of the spelling regarding his last name and the spelling of the game name, a clever twist of sorts on his part). He says he created the game to entertain his partner during the lockdown and found subsequently that his family enjoyed using it too.

Somewhat out of the blue, the publicly available game gradually caught the eye of those that like such games. At that point, it was at first a quiet growth and then shot to the moon. Via social media exhortations, the proverbial bandwagon network effect then arose. This is the phenomenon whereby those using something online encourage others to use it too, causing a type of exponential growth when those others likewise push to get more people engaged. Eventually, a FOMO (fear of missing out) can also take hold, ergo people that would not normally seek to use the item do so because everyone else is (i.e., nobody likes being the last to the party, or being the only outcast on planet Earth).

Note that the Wordle game is free to play.

That removes one potential hurdle or barrier. When a game costs money to play, this can undercut the potential pool of desirous game players.

The game is currently solely on the web and not available as a smartphone-style app. In one sense, being on the web is another means of being globally available and can be said to surpass the requirement of having a smartphone, plus an app usually requires a downloading activity. For Wordle, you just surf the website and start using it.

As an aside, there are already clones trying to grab the eyeballs that are going to the real Wordle. Some have set up websites that confuse you into believing it is the real Wordle. Others have quickly devised apps for smartphones and try to get you to spend on the app as a sneaky or insidious coattails means of getting a quick buck. Some of the app stores have already started to crack down on the more egregious copycats.

Wordle does not use ads to make a buck, nor does it have pop-ups, banners, sponsors, or other money earning angles. Nor is there a “premium” option that tries to hook you in the vanilla flavor and then pony up the dough for additional features.

All right, Wordle is free to use, available readily on the web, doesn’t bombard game players with attempts to grab part of their wallets, and is easy-peasy to understand and play. Those are crucial factors toward opening the door towards having a game that can skyrocket.

There are some additional subtle but significant elements that further the aura of Wordle.

Wordle makes available the latest secret word at midnight, using the same word for anyone that wants to play the game on that next day. Thus, you don’t get your own secret word. You are playing a game that the rest of the world is also playing. This fosters a sense of global competition. You are “competing” with fellow humans wherever they might be.

This gets the competitive juices going.

And, due to the widespread access to social media, it means that people can tout how well they did. Some players become energized by being able to point out that they guessed the secret word in say one guess. Others are proud that they landed on the secret word by the last allowed guess. Even those that didn’t guess the word are often glad to express that they were not able to do so.

The topper that really helps this game to be viral is that the game presents the player with a simple but memorable grid, one that you can also capture as a visual snippet and send or post for others to see. This cleverly encapsulates your played game. It is kind of a secret code that other Wordle game players all instantly recognize and comprehend. You look at a grid and it tells you all about the game played, merely at a quick glance.

The grid consists of five cells or letters across for the columns, and six rows to represent each of the permitted guesses. For whatever guess you make, the grid will show a green cell to indicate you have the right letter in the right position, while a yellow color is used to show that the letter was in the secret word but not in the position that you guessed. A cell shown as grey means that the letter that you guessed in that position is not in the word at all.

Presumably, you make your first guess and look with keen excitement to see what colors are shown. Did you get any greens? If so, you are on your way since you already landed on the right letter in the right position. Did you get any yellows? That’s handy since you know that the letter is in the word, but you are also somewhat dismayed that it was in the wrong position. Did you get any greys? That can be soul-crushing since it means that the letter you guessed is not in the word anywhere.

For those of you that make the first guess and get an entire slate of greys, it can be disheartening. If your second guess goes the same way, your world turns upside down with discouragement. I won’t say what your emotions are if you somehow end up with all greys for all six guesses. This seems almost an impossibility if you are genuinely playing the game with vigor, though it certainly is possible and you ought not to harangue yourself too much (plus, come on, it’s just a game!).

I now return you to my earlier question about your feelings toward vowels and consonants.

You know for sure that the five-letter word is a valid word in English (it is not yet using non-English words). After years of playing Hangman in your youth, you assuredly know that a strategic way to guess a word consists of trying to ferret out the vowels. You therefore would ostensibly choose a valid five-letter word that has lots of vowels as your first guess. The odds of getting some greens or yellows would seem heightened.

That’s why the word A-U-D-I-O might be a favored first start. It has lots of vowels. Most players gradually become enamored of some opening word that they use time and again. That being said, there are those that strenuously believe in the value of consonants. They counterargue that it is better to use a word like P-S-Y-C-H or the word C-R-Y-P-T, or something like that.

Given that you now realize the context associated with my opening question concerning vowels and consonants, what is your answer at this time about which you prefer?

One last point before we move onto a different but related topic, there are some that have decided to try and outsmart the Wordle game by poking into the innards of the game. You see, there are about 12,000 five-letter words in usual English, though the game developer Wardle decided that this would be excessive and overly arduous to use that many distinct words. He instead narrowed the list to less than 2,500 five-letter words.

This helps your odds of guessing the secret word. In a way, it is again a clever means of gaining stickiness, since you are likely to win from time to time, rather than losing the preponderance of the time. People don’t tend to replay games that force them to pretty much always lose. A game usually has to give people a decent chance at winning, enough to keep them hooked (Las Vegas has expertly figured this out).

I am going to share with you some insights gleaned from an analysis of the roughly 2,500 words being used by Wordle. Before I do so, you need to decide whether you want to know this or not. I decidedly do not want to spoil the game for you. Stop reading this paragraph if you want no semblance of clues about playing the game. With that, according to reported analyses, the most common leading letter at the start of the words is the letter S. Next most common starting letter is A, and the next common after that is the letter O. And so on.

Does knowing some telling characteristics about the set of words arm you with a substantive advantage?

Well, it partially depends upon how you leverage that knowledge. There are astute ways to play the game and there are (shall we say) dullard ways to play the game. You can play the game by making crazy and fun wild guesses, not caring about how many tries it takes. Others consider this as a sobering and serious matter, akin to solving those murder mysteries or maybe even figuring out how to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Remember, it is a game and you’ve not wagered anything (sorry to report that some are now), and nor does your life or livelihood depend upon it. Gee, do you think that some will go pro and become professional Wordle players? I’m sure that we’ll soon see Wordle coaches and consultants, proffering their shrewd gaming advantage paid-for services to boost your Wordle acumen.

One wonders too whether we will see a global spike in the use of five-letter words in our daily correspondences, including memoranda, emails, texts, and the like? Perhaps five-letter words will be the hot thing to learn and use.

Go, five-letter words, go!

Shifting gears, believe it or not, there are aspects about Wordle that we can use to explore the matter of AI-based true self-driving cars. This might seem surprising. I assure you though that handy lessons are available.

Here’s then a noteworthy question that is worth pondering: How might the otherwise innocuous Wordle game showcase some salient aspects about AI-based true self-driving cars?

Allow me a moment to unpack the question.

First, note that there isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

I’d like to further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

As a quick aside, I’ve previously discussed how the famous game of Go provides insights toward notable aspects about AI-based self-driving cars, which you might also find of interest, see the link here.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And The Wordle World

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

First, it is important to realize that not all AI self-driving cars are the same. Each automaker and self-driving tech firm is taking its approach to devising self-driving cars. As such, it is difficult to make sweeping statements about what AI driving systems will do or not do.

Furthermore, whenever stating that an AI driving system doesn’t do some particular thing, this can, later on, be overtaken by developers that in fact program the computer to do that very thing. Step by step, AI driving systems are being gradually improved and extended. An existing limitation today might no longer exist in a future iteration or version of the system.

I trust that provides a sufficient litany of caveats to underlie what I am about to relate.

We are primed now to do a deep dive into how Wordle helps illuminate elements of AI-based true self-driving cars.

First, when you play Wordle, the odds are that you use some form of strategy or tactics. We already discussed this idea, such as the use of vowels versus consonants. In short, it is unlikely that you merely randomly guess (I’m not saying you can’t go the purely random route, I think though that most people do sincerely strive to bring their cognition to the matter at hand).

When I ask people about how they drive a car, seasoned drivers often will say that they just do. They are so ingrained in driving that it is the veritable falling off a log kind of activity. They don’t think that they are doing much thinking, even though the reality is that you are doing a heck of a lot of thinking. This is the case for even the worst of drivers, namely they are indeed thinking, despite the aspect that they might have flawed thinking or are unable to convert their thinking into prudent actions.

The point is that when playing Wordle, you are exercising your cognitive capabilities. The same is true about driving a car. You are using your cognitive capabilities to drive a car. After a while, you are less prone to be thinking about your thinking associated with driving a car.

What usually snaps you into awareness is when you make a booboo with your car.

Upon swerving over into an adjacent lane and sideswiping another car, you suddenly become keenly aware that you mentally misjudged things. You might have thought that you had more clearance. You might have thought that the other car was going to speed up. Etc.

Moments like that spark you into thinking about your thinking.

Our society has found that unfortunately drivers are increasingly being distracted in their thinking whilst at the wheel of their cars. You might be trying to drive and meanwhile watch cat videos on your smartphone at the same time. You might be texting a friend about your latest personal happenings or trying to read a text that informs you to meet at the local diner for dinner, forgoing your complete attention to the driving task.

Distracted driving has fueled quite a number of tragic car crashes. In the United States alone, we have about 40,000 annual fatalities due to car crashes, and an estimated 2.5 million people injured. Many of those deaths and injuries arose due to distracted driving (for my analysis of the myriad of reasons for car crashes, see the link here).

I believe we can all agree that cognition is vital to driving a car, and to some extent, cognition is instrumental to playing Wordle (of course, the Wordle game does not have life-or-death consequences while driving a multi-ton car on public roadways assuredly does).

The trick then to devising AI-based true self-driving cars consists of somehow programming the AI software to have a semblance of “cognition” about driving. As mentioned earlier, do not confound this by saying that the AI has to have sentience. There are admittedly some pundits that insist we will only achieve true self-driving cars if we can produce sentient AI. Others exclaim that this is hogwash and that we can have non-sentient AI that is able to sufficiently drive cars safely on our highways, streets, and byways.

Let’s take a closer look at the cognition aspects.

The Wordle game has a database or list of apparently about 2,500 five-letter words. You hopefully know most of those words already, though there are words included in the online dataset that many people would rarely use or know. I suggest you start reading up on five-letter words, maybe quizzing yourself by using online dictionaries that have all of the English-speaking five-letter words available. Sure, you might end up learning those roughly 12,000 five-letter words and overshoot the 2,500 involved in the game, but I’m sure you’ll pat yourself on the back for becoming a five-letter word champ (especially if you play Scrabble).

Bottom-line is that you need to have a cognitive “database” of words in your mind and that you need to search that knowledge space to find the word that most fits the secret word, landing hopefully ultimately on the secret word. You mindfully prune the search space as you go along. For example, on your first guess, the green lights up for the fact that you entered the letter A into the first letter position. You now can eliminate all five-letter words that do not start with the letter A. You can concentrate on just the subset of the search space that has the words that do start with the letter A.

You are using your cognition, your mental prowess, as a means of strategically and tactically playing the game.

Here’s something that you might not have thought of.

While driving a car, you are doing the same kind of mental exertions.

Imagine yourself at the wheel of your vehicle. You come up to a busy intersection. There are cars to your left, cars to your right, some cars going in the opposite direction of you, and so on.

You are hopefully watching all of this traffic, but you meanwhile should also be assessing the setting to identify the circumstances that are of particular importance.

Your mind has created a wetware dataset that contains a mental model of the world around you. Within that imaginary model in your noggin, which is based on the reality surrounding you, there is a cognitive effort involved in pruning the search space. Consider what you trying to prune and why you do so.

Many of the cars zipping past you are not worthy of special attention. They come and go. On the other hand, a car that seems to be weaving in its lane, that’s something to be a focus on. Will it veer toward you? Will it veer into another car, and that, in turn, might cascade into a scramble toward your car?

Suppose that on the sidewalk is a teenager walking along and they seem to be waving back-and-forth while wearing a headset blaring music in their ears. Is watching this teen more important or less important than observing a car directly ahead of you that is nervously punching its brakes? I dare say, all else being equal, probably best to focus on the car, allowing the teen to go along on their merry way since the teen doesn’t seem to be any kind of driving-related issue pertaining to your driving efforts.

All of the mental modeling and search space pruning is going on, presumably, and yet you tend to not give much due notice to it. Newbie drivers that are just first learning to drive are usually quite conscious of their minds as to driving the vehicle. What should I be thinking about, the anxious new driver might ask of you?

For AI-based true self-driving cars, the general approach to the design of the AI driving system entails programming a computer-based virtual model that keeps track of the objects surrounding the autonomous vehicle. The sensors such as video cameras, LIDAR, radar, and the rest are collecting data about what they detect, and the computer system via the programmed AI is noting those objects within the internal computer-kept model.

The AI driving system tries to discern what each object signifies. Is it a car? Is the car moving away or toward the self-driving car? Is that a pedestrian on the sidewalk? Is the pedestrian striding toward the street or away from the street?

Realize that there are likely hundreds if not thousands of objects surrounding your car in any everyday driving scene. There are cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, trees, houses, curbs, telephone poles, signal lights, cats, dogs, fire hydrants, etc. A human driver does not seemingly give equal attention or equal weight to all of those objects at all times.

Similarly, the AI is programmed to ascertain which objects present the most significance for whatever driving actions are underway. Based on probabilities and presumed likely behaviors for the detected objects, the search space is pruned to then focus on that which seems to make the most substantive import to the driving task at hand.


I don’t want to upset those ironclad avid Wordle fans, but I think it is reasonably safe to contend that driving a car is more cognitively complex and overwhelming than is the act of guessing a five-letter secret word. I mention this because I am sure that some smarmy readers are going to hiccup that I am comparing driving a car to the act of playing the Wordle game (“what the heck, those two things aren’t even in the same ballpark!”).

Be sure to realize that they are cognitively vastly apart from each other.

I only use the simplest of fundamentals to showcase that there is a cognitive effort in things such as playing a Wordle game, and likewise cognitive effort in driving a car. Furthermore, we are trying to essentially emulate what we believe the cognitive effort requires for human drivers as best we can into software consisting of AI techniques and technologies, aiming to arrive inevitably at concocting AI-based true self-driving cars.

If you want to feel superior to an AI self-driving car, one supposes that the next time you go for a ride in one, challenge it to a duel using the Wordle game. The AI driving system will probably lose, assuming it hasn’t been programmed for playing the game (it won’t therefore even get out the gate, as it were). You’ll feel smug that a human has bested the AI driving system.

Now that I’ve mentioned this, I’m anticipating that some automakers and self-driving tech firms will quickly insert a Wordle playing AI-opponent into their in-vehicle entertainment package, allowing you to in fact play Wordle while going for a ride in a self-driving car.

I hate to tell you this, but the odds are the AI will win the Wordle game faster than you do. The more important aspect will be that the separate and distinct AI driving system is focused solely on driving the autonomous vehicle, and the game-playing AI contrivance won’t distract from the primary mission of the AI driving system.

Please, please, please, all human drivers resist the temptation to play Wordle while driving a car (and, do not do anything else that distracts while driving either).

My secret five-letter words on that would be that by driving safely you’ll be H-A-P-P-Y and as a handy reminder, avert being D-A-F-F-Y while at the wheel.


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