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
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
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