How about collaboration?

My previous post on Computers and Chess, serves as a good prologue to this.

watson
That’s me geeking out at the Jeopardy stage setup.

A little more than two years ago, the IBM Watson played against and defeated the previous champions of Jeopardy!, the TV game show in which the contestants are tested on their general knowledge with quiz-style questions.[1] I remember being so excited while watching this episode that I ended up playing it over and over again, only to have the Jeopardy jingle loop in my head for a couple of days! Now, this is a much harder challenge for the computer scientists to solve than making a machine play chess.

Computers have accomplished so many things that we thought that only humans could do (play chess and jeopardy, drive a car all by itself …). While these examples are by no means small problems that we have solved, we still have a long way to go. While it can solve problems that we as humans often find difficult (such as playing chess, calculating 1234567890 raised to the power 42 etc.), it cannot* do a lot of things that you and I take for granted. For example, it can’t comprehend this post as well as you do (Watson may not be able to answer everything), read it out naturally & fluently (Siri still sounds robotic) and make sense of the visuals on this page (and so on). *At least not yet.

Computers were designed as tools to help us with calculations or computations. By this very definition, are computers are inherently better at handling certain types of problems while in others they fail? Well, we have no answer [2] to this question now and I at least hope that it isn’t in affirmative so that someday we can replicate human intelligence. As we have seen in the past, we certainly can not say that “X” is something that computers will never be able to do. But we can sure point out the areas in which the researchers are working hard and hoping to improve.

Here’s a video that talks about the topic that I am hinting at. While I promise not to post many TED talks in future, you can be sure of finding this central idea (the first half of the talk) as a common theme on this blog. Also, I prefer the word “Collaboration” over “Cooperation” [3] :

TLDR Let’s not try to solve big problems solely with computers. Make computers do the boring repetitive work and involve humans for providing creative inputs or heuristics for the machines. Try to improve interfaces that make this possible.

Although this was an idea envisioned in "Man-Computer Symbiosis" (Licklider J. C. R., 1960) more than half-a-century ago, researchers seem to have not given due importance to it when [4] the computers failed to perform as well as expected. Of course, more the number of “X”s that the computers are able to do by themselves, the more it frees us to do whatever we do best. When we do look around and observe the devices that we use and how we interact with the machines everyday, we seem to have knowingly or unknowingly progressed in the direction shown by Licklider. With the furthering of research in areas such as Human Computing, Social Computing, and (the new buzzword) Crowd-sourcing, the interest shown in such ideas has never been greater.

References

  1. Licklider J. C. R. (1960), Man-Computer Symbiosis. IEEE. Available: http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html.

Footnotes

  1. More about Watson from IBM here. See also, Jeopardy vs. Chess. ^
  2. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk does talk about “HITs” or Human Intelligence Tasks ^
  3. In AI terms, it would indeed be multi-agent co-operation but then again we are not treating humans just as agents in this case. ^
  4. AI Winter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI_winter ^

Computers and Chess

Deep Blue vs Kasparov '96 Game 1
Deep Blue vs. Kasparov: 1996 Game 1. Deep Blue won this game but Kasparov went on to win the match by 4-2. In the 1997 re-match, however, Deep Blue won 3½–2½.

To design an algorithm for playing the game of chess has been one of the challenges that has attracted the attention of many mathematicians and computer scientists. The sheer number of combinatorial possibilities make it hard to predict the result for both humans and computers alike. There have been many highly publicized games pitting humans against the (super) computers in the ’90s and ’00s, such as the Deep Blue vs. Kasparov one.

It was around the same time that I was starting out with chess and was interested in learning how to play better. My father had gifted me a copy of a computer game called Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess. It included playing strategies, past-game analysis and video coaching by the chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley. It also had a practice mode where you could compete and play against the computer. I didn’t end up being a good chess player but if my memory serves me right, it did not take me long to start beating the in-game AI. But things have changed a lot since then. Computers are not only faster and more powerful now (to explore more number of moves) but are also equipped with better algorithms to evaluate a decision. Let’s compare excerpts from the introductory chapters from two of my textbooks:

From "Cognitive Psychology" (Medin et.al., 2004):

The number of ways in which the first 10 moves can be played is on the order of billions and there are more possible sequences for the game than there are atoms in the universe! Obviously neither humans nor machines can determine the best moves by considering all the possibilities. In fact, grandmaster chess players typically report that they consider only a handful of the possible moves and “look ahead” for only a few moves. In contrast, chess computers are capable of examining more than 2,000,000 potential moves per second and can search quite a few moves ahead. The amazing thing is that the best grandmasters (as of this writing) are still competitive with the best computers.

Now consider, "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd Edition)" (Russell et.al., 2010):

IBM’s DEEP BLUE became the first computer program to defeat the world champion in a chess match when it bested Garry Kasparov by a score of 3.5 to 2.5 in an exhibition match (Goodman and Keene, 1997). Kasparov said that he felt a “new kind of intelligence” across the board from him. Newsweek magazine described the match as “The brain’s last stand.” The value of IBM’s stock increased by $18 billion. Human champions studied Kasparov’s loss and were able to draw a few matches in subsequent years, but the most recent human-computer matches have been won convincingly by the computer.

So, what happened in the six year gap between the publishing of these books? It turns out that there has indeed been such a shift in the recent years. The computers’ superior performance stats can be seen on this Wikipedia entry. We have come a long way since the Kasparov vs. Deep Blue matches due the the advancements in both hardware and AI algorithms. Computers have now started not only wining but dominating in the human-computer chess matches so much so that even mobile phones running slower hardware are reaching Grandmaster levels. Guess, time’s right for switching to new board games! Btw, Checkers is a solved problem since 2007: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5844/1518.full! It will end up in a draw (they have a computational proof of that) if both players use the perfect strategies, i.e. the one that never loses.

Image Credits: en:User:Cburnett / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / GFDL

References

  1. Russell et.al. (2010), Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd Edition), 49. Prentice Hall. Available: http://www.amazon.com/Artificial-Intelligence-Modern-Approach-Edition/dp/0136042597.
  2. Medin et.al. (2004), Cognitive Psychology. Wiley. Available: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?tag=citeulike07-20&path=ASIN/0471458201.