Man vs Machine: go-ing, go-ing, gone


I want you all to recall 1997. Can you? Do you have an image of that year? A smell? Need some help? Okay: That was the year many were saying their farewells to Diana, Princess of Wales. For my wife, it'll remain THE news story of the year. But for me, and many others, 1997 was more memorable because of a little something named Deep Blue.

Ah, yes. Now you're remembering 1997 - Gary Kasparov, world chess champion is defeated by an IBM super-computer, marking the beginning of what has become the norm: in the world of man vs. machine, machines are gaining ground in a wide variety of games.

The Economist has a great article this week on A.I., describing how, when it comes to Othello and backgammon, computers now have the upper hand. Soon, Scrabble, poker and bridge will be theirs, as well. The only tough challenge remaining? Go.

Go was invented more than 2,500 years ago in China (Confucius considered it a waste of time). It is a strategic contest in which two players take turns to place stones on the intersections of a grid with 19 lines on each side. Each player tries to stake out territory and surround his opponent. The rules are simple but the play is extraordinarily complex. During a game, some stones will "die", and some will appear to be dead but spring back to life at an inopportune moment. It is often difficult to say who is winning right until the end.

Check out the article for the rest of the scoop on how computer scientists are using new algorithms that "teach" the computer to play a large number of random games and make educated moves based in the outcome so that in the very near future, even Go will be gone.