Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Checkered Success

The famous checker playing program Chinook can no longer lose a game of checkers. The program now has access to a database documenting the perfect move in every situation that can arise in the game.

An average of 50 computers—with more than 200 running at peak times—were used everyday to compute the knowledge necessary to complete Chinook. Now that it is complete, the program no longer needs heuristics—it has become a database of information that "knows" the best move to play in every situation of a game. If Chinook's opponent also plays perfectly the game would end in a draw.

The researchers are very celebratory but I have mixed feelings about this "achievement". As a feat of computer science it is very impressive but as an advancement in AI it seems like a total waste of time. What does this achievement teach us? What does it suggest as the logical next move in building truly intelligence programs? There are probably not enough atoms in the universe to apply this same technique to chess and certainly not Go. Even if it was feasible, it is far from beautiful. The feat is akin to a mathematical proof that is solved strictly by brute force. You have a result but you learned next to nothing about mathematics.

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