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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Check that program: Computers solving games

There was a report in Friday's newspapers detailing the quest of a Canadian computer scientist who has "solved" the game of Checkers (aka Draughts to our friends across the pond). He force-fed data to a program with the breezy name Chinook, having it run through the hundreds of billions of scenarios that might play out in a friendly set-to. The artificially intelligent verdict is that when played perfectly on both sides, the outcome will always be a draw. See the Scientific American article Computers Solve Checkers—It's a Draw for a good recap of the 18-year effort to mathematically prove the game's ultimate outcome is a dead end.

The next boardgame solving challenges, in order of complexity: Othello, Chess, and Go. As computer technology improves, these types of problems will get easier to solve through brute force calculations. It will take much longer, however, to develop the type of artifical intelligence science fiction writers have often imagined, with computers using reasoning and decision-making skills to solve puzzles.

Maybe then it will be possible to not only solve boardgames, but for computers to decide the many complex social jousts that are a part of human life. Imagine being able to feed data into a program so that it can analyze all of the possible outcomes of a difficult interaction and recommend the best moves to make. Have a first date? Just let Decide-O figure out how to act in order to secure a second. Need to approach the boss for a raise? Decide-O will give you the exact amount to ask for, and the properly deferential language to use.

My guess is that if such a program were devised to "solve" all human interactions, the proof would once more show an end-game with no winners. All of this game theory has called to my primitive mind a favorite song dealing with problem relationships ...

Game of Pricks
by Guided by Voices

I've waited too long to have you
Hide in the back of me
I've cheated so long I wonder
How you keep track of me

You could never be strong
You can only be free
And I never asked for the truth
But you owe that to me

I've entered the game of pricks
With knives in the back of me
Can't call you or on you no more
When you're attacking me

I'll climb up on the house
Weep to water the trees
And when you come calling me down
I'll put on my disease

You could never be strong
You can only be free
And I never asked for the truth
But you owe that to me ...
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