Aunt Beast: Iíll Be Back

October 6, 2006

Josh Purinton has sent us post-tournament observations.

Back in April, I wrote to Danny: "I don't believe an unassisted human will ever be able to compete with a computer program at sprouts."

I still agree with that statement. However, in light of Aunt Beast's failure to win even a single game in the tournament, I thought it might be a good time for me to elaborate on the assumptions behind it.

First, I assume that sprouts programs will be able to use the many of the methods of analysis used by top human players. In games like Go, the top human players seem to use cognitive processes -- such as visual pattern recognition -- that are still quite difficult to emulate on a computer. In contrast, I believe that the thinking processes used by top Sprouts players *can* be emulated with standard computer algorithms. As I see it, Roman Khorkov has invented powerful ways of analyzing and simplifying sprouts positions that Aunt Beast simply doesn't know about yet. But once she does... look out!

Second, I assume that, given a large enough number of initial spots, even in a theoretically lost opening, it will be possible to steer the game into positions that are very difficult for a human to evaluate yet are possible for a machine to evaluate. I don't have any evidence for this assumption, though; it's a matter of faith.

So, where does Aunt Beast go from here? Back in April, Danny Purvis gave us a hint when he wrote: "An entirely different approach to computer sprouts might be to incorporate the algorithms that Roman has envisioned."

I think that simplifying the position, as Roman Khorkov seems to do, is the most promising path forward for Aunt Beast. In May, Dan Hoey pointed out a general way of doing this. Among other things, he showed how to prove that any region with one pivot spot and one degree-0 spot is equivalent in best play to a region having one pivot spot and one degree-2 spot. The next step for Aunt Beast is to start discovering and using simplification rules like this. Finally, I'd like to congratulate the 3-time World Champion of Sprouts, Roman Khorkov. He is certainly the strongest sprouts player in history. His sweeping victories continue to inspire me to improve Aunt Beast.

-- Josh Purinton

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