Final draughts

Monday, 23 July 2007 — 9:50pm | Board games, Computing, Mathematics, Science

Here’s something I would have posted last Thursday if I hadn’t cut myself off from the Internet in what was, in hindsight, an excellently timed and perfectly necessary pre-Potter lockdown. It’s been all over the news at a national and international level, as it damn well should be, but I feel it is my duty as an enthusiast of games of strategy and an alumnus of the University of Alberta’s esteemed Computing Science department to once again highlight the tremendous accomplishment that Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer and the GAMES group made last week. I heard rumblings of a major breakthrough about two months ago, but the details were kept under embargo. With the publication of the accomplishment in Science, it’s official: checkers has been solved.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with computing science, game theory or their related fields, what it means in layman’s terms is this: consider how with a simple game like Tic-Tac-Toe, pretty much everyone over the age of five has stumbled upon a strategy that will always play to a win or a draw. Well, it’s been a long time coming, but they’ve just done that with checkers.

There’s a considerable wealth of information on the Chinook website, where you can step your way through a demonstration of the proof or find your way to the article in Science.

More than anything else, I hope this kind of high-profile accomplishment encourages others to pursue studies in what is, I think, a grossly misunderstood and often ill-introduced branch of the sciences. I know that I, for one, had little idea just what I was missing until I transferred into their programme in my third year, a decision about which I have almost no regrets. Computers aren’t just tools that are meant to sit around generating heat in office cubicles, waiting to be thrown out a nearby window; their study is not limited to job training for information-age janitors, network witch-doctors and software monkeys. There’s a genuinely interesting field of scientific enquiry there to which few receive anything remotely resembling a proper introduction. I sincerely hope this is a step towards the elusive remedy.

Next stop, poker!

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