11 March 2007

On TV and games

First of all, a point to MRhé for making me aware of the fact that ABC and NBC let you watch their programming on the internet. I had previously been paying $1.99 per episode of LOST and Studio 60 on iTunes, but now I can just watch it (albeit not fullscreen) for free at the price of a couple minutes worth of ads per episode. I think this model of on-demand TV programming better than the pay-per-episode iTunes setup: I think soon the idea of scheduled programs will be a thing of the past, but I don't think people will be willing to pay for each episode they want to watch. Plus, who really wants to "own" a TV episode? There aren't that many that I'd really want to watch over and over.

Anyway, in the most recent episode of LOST (no real spoilers here) Locke plays chess against a computer and somebody says to him, "Don't bother, it was programmed by three grand masters, and it cheats". There are two pretty stupid mistakes there, one to do with chess and one to do with computers.

First, it is not possible to cheat at chess (for a computer or a person). Cheating in any game requires there to be some hidden information. A player cheats by manipulating the hidden information unbeknownst to the other player in a way that violates the rules of the game. Chess is a game of complete information (one of it's beauties); both players know everything there is to know about the game at all times, so you can't cheat against an opponent who is paying attention.

Second a good chess program wouldn't be programmed by grand masters of chess it would be programmed by clever programmers. Computers don't play chess in the same way that humans do, they explore the possible space of moves much deeper than any human could, whereas chess greats must use some intuition to search a smaller fraction of that space that presumably yields favourable results.

Five demerits to the writers of LOST.

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