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Friday, July 20, 2007

How about a nice game of chess?

Well it's no WOPR (showing my age here a little) but it plays a mean game of checkers! A researcher at the University of Alberta and his team have created Chinook, a checker-playing computer program, that will never lose. Jonathan Schaeffer, chairman of the department of computing science at the University says "The program can achieve at least a draw against any opponent, playing either the black or white pieces,". Traditionally game playing programs employ heuristics, a rules of thumb approach, that make them right most of the time but Schaeffer explains "What we've done is show that you can take nontrivial problems, very large problems, and you can do the same kind of reasoning with perfection. There is no error in the Chinook result. ... Every decision point is 100 percent." I worked on a chess playing program once and can appreciate the difficulty the researchers had, considering the number of pieces and possible moves... I wish I could have received some of that government funding to work out the solution! Not that there is no value in this type of research, I truly wish I could get paid to work on projects such as Mr. Schaeffer's, they are extraordinary. Even though it took them 18 years to complete, I'm sure it was a lot of fun and a labor of love. Now Professor Falken, how about a nice game of chess? Wired has more details here.