Chess is one of the world's most popular games. Its popularity and complexity make it an interesting research domain for artificial intelligence. The number of board positions we can get to from the initial board state is larger than the number of atoms in the universe! Chess playing machines have been the subject of human interest for hundreds of years, but only on the last few decades have they been able to compete with (and beat) the world champions. Chess programs now have their own tournaments.
WASHINGTON - It's official: the machines are going to destroy you (if, that is, you're a professional gamer). A team of programmers at a British artificial intelligence company has designed automated "agents" that taught themselves how to play the seminal first-person shooter "Quake III Arena," and became so good they consistently beat human opponents. The work of the researchers from DeepMind, which is owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., was described in a paper published in Science on Thursday and marks the first time the feat has ever been accomplished. To be sure, computers have been proving their dominance over humans in one-on-one turn-based games such as chess ever since IBM's Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. More recently, a Google AI agent beat the world's No. 1 go player in 2017.
Chess is a complicated game. It's a game of strategy between two opponents, but with no hidden information and all of the potential moves known by both players at the outset. With each turn, players communicate their intent and try to anticipate the possible countermoves. The ability to envision several moves in advance is a recipe for victory, and one that mathematicians and logicians have long found intriguing. Despite some early mechanical chess-playing machines--and at least one chess-playing hoax--mechanized chess play remained hypothetical until the advent of digital computing.
For several decades, various types of artificial intelligence have been facing off with people in highly competitive games and then quickly destroying their human competition. AI long ago mastered chess, the Chinese board game Go and even the Rubik's cube, which it managed to solve in just 0.38 seconds. Now machines have a new game that will allow them to humiliate humans: Jenga, the popular game ---- and source of melodramatic 1980s commercials ---- in which players strategically remove pieces from an increasingly unstable tower of 54 blocks, placing each one on top until the entire structure collapses. A newly released video from MIT shows a robot developed by the school's engineers playing the game with surprising precision. The machine is quipped with a soft-pronged gripper, a force-sensing wrist cuff and an external camera, allowing the robot to perceive the tower's vulnerabilities the way a human might, according to Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale career development assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. "Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces," Rodriguez said in a statement released by the school.
In early December, researchers at DeepMind, the artificial-intelligence company owned by Google's parent corporation, Alphabet Inc., filed a dispatch from the frontiers of chess. A year earlier, on Dec. 5, 2017, the team had stunned the chess world with its announcement of AlphaZero, a machine-learning algorithm that had mastered not only chess but shogi, or Japanese chess, and Go. The algorithm started with no knowledge of the games beyond their basic rules. It then played against itself millions of times and learned from its mistakes. In a matter of hours, the algorithm became the best player, human or computer, the world has ever seen.