Game on


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It’s piloting our planes, diagnosing our health issues, and analyzing our finances. It’s re-shaping our job markets and, whether we realize it or not, it’s pushing us to re-consider much more deeply, the unique values of the human mind.

It’s AI. Artificial Intelligence. Or as many scientists prefer to call it Computer Intelligence, because there’s nothing artificial about it.

And it’s now teaching itself.

A watershed mark for computer intelligence took place in 1997 when Deep Blue, an IBM computer, soundly defeated then world chess champion Gary Kasparov. But experts claimed that while a super computer can beat a human at a game dominated by logic and purely computational moves, it would never beat a human at the most complex board game ever invented: Go.

This Asian game is also based on territorial conquest, but unlike chess requires intuition and moves Go players often refer to as beautifully creative. Experts were certain a computer could never develop these skills.

19 years later the world Go champion was stunned after being soundly beaten by AlphaGo, a computer program developed by a company called Deep Mind, acquired by Google.

What happened next was particularly startling to those monitoring computer intelligence.

The Deep Mind team created a new program, but instead of feeding it thousands of the best played human games to learn from, the new software was programmed to learn by playing against itself about 5 million times in quick succession.

Named AlphaGo Zero (zero human input), it went on to defeat the previous computer Go champ 100 consecutive times.

According to Deep Mind’s lead researcher, “In a short space of time, AlphaGo Zero has understood all of the Go knowledge that has been accumulated by humans over thousands of years. Sometimes it’s actually chosen to go beyond that and discovered something that the humans hadn’t ever discovered.”

Game on.

Games are one of the oldest recorded forms of human interaction. They are one of the most prominent methods we humans have for developing our own intelligence. Structured interactive games teach decision making by using wins and losses for motivation. Games enhance prediction skills. They sharpen critical thinking.

A key difference between AI and humans playing games is that through play in general, games more specifically, humans learn the benefits of social interaction.

NEW WORLD OF VIDEO GAMING

Powered by AI how big a trend is video gaming? According to Reuters, last year the gaming industry produced revenues of about $116 billion, more than the combined revenues of all TV shows and TV streaming. Over twice as much as the money generated by the movie industry and music industry combined.

Two-thirds of all households in the U.S. have at least one video gamer, and 97 percent of kids ages 2-17 are already playing video games,. according to a study released by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. The most popular game currently, Fortnite: Battle Royale has over 250 million registered users.

And what are these millions of game players learning? One of the unique elements of Fortnite is that within the island of shoot ‘em up, try to be the last person to survive attack tactics are dance floors complete with flashing lights and up- tempo music. Many players choose to hang out here rather than keep up with the fighting going on outside.

Yet despite nothing in the rules that prevents an aggressive player from coming in with a virtual weapon and taking control of the environment to help win the game, no one has. Players on their own have established a tacit agreement that the dance floors are demilitarized zones where attacks are socially unacceptable.

One prominent educational researcher describes Fortnite as a “classic third space, neither home nor school, where kids can socialize and play beyond the watchful eyes of parents or teachers, and learn 21st century skills like collaboration and problem solving.”

THE ULTIMATE GAME

The human species emerged out of the natural selection game we call evolution. Charles Darwin is one of the most misunderstood geniuses in history. First, the phrase commonly linked with evolution, “survival of the fittest,” is not Darwin’s. It’s a description by a contemporary philosopher/scientist of his Herbert Spencer. When Darwin later used the word, “fittest,” he didn’t mean strongest or most aggressive, but most adaptive.

Darwin definitely noted competition in the predator/prey dynamic of nature, but he also observed that the most favorable advances in evolution came from the practice of mutual aid and collaboration over competition.

The other key principle, too often lost in the ‘winner take all’ mentality of our human economic/social environment is that the driving force in evolutionary progress has not been power. As noted by biologist James Shapiro more recently: “Random selection, while important, is not the key to evolution. The key is novelty and creative change. Without variation and novelty, selection has nothing to act upon.”

As super computers continue to teach themselves at exponential speeds and hundreds of millions of human minds continue connecting and collaborating on the AI driven World Wide Web, what novel adaptations will emerge?

Game on…   TJ  

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