Scientists try to solve ancient board game

by Paul Jay, CBC News online

Chess lovers revel in their game's status as the brainiest of leisure activities, but even they had to admit some of the fun has been taken out of the game after Deep Blue and, more recently, Deep Fritz, started beating world champions.

Those in pursuit of a game of true human intuition could always fall back on Go, as the popular Asian board game's subtleties had thus far eluded programmers. While Go-playing software could beat amateur players, they had failed to compete against even mid-level opponents. Two Hungarian scientists, however, believe they are a step closer to playing in the big leagues.

According to a story in Reuters, the scientists at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences' computing lab SZTAKI have come up with an algorithm that helps a computer compete with professional players on a nine-by-nine square board. As the story explains:

Whereas a chess programme can evaluate a scenario by assigning numerical values to pieces — say 9 to the queen and 1 to a pawn — and to the tactical worth of their position, that technique is not available to a Go machine. In Go all marbles are identical and scenarios are too complex, so the computer has to think forward all the way till the end of the game and emulate the outcome of each alternative move, whose number rises exponentially with the number of turns.

Most professional players use a 19-by-19 board, a level of complexity the programmers admit their computer isn't quite ready to tackle.

While we root for technological advances in general, we hope Go can continue to thrive as a person to person pursuit. And that this guy never decides to take a crack at it.