August 6, 1997
In Another Man-Machine Matchup,
The Computer Has the Upper Hand
By JOSH ROLNICK
OUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) -- Takeshi Murakami, the reining Othello champion, may have to come up with a small miracle to defeat his computer opponent on Wednesday.
The Japanese Othello expert lost Games 1 and 2 of a six-game match to a computer named Logistello here Monday and admits there's not much he can do.
"Frankly, I have a very slim chance of winning it," said Murakami, an English teacher from Tokyo, who lost both games by identical 48-16 scores. "I can not find any defect or weakness."
And even though Murakami showed some improvement in the second game, he never really threatened Logistello. In both games, the computer predicted early on it would win big then followed through.
Less than three months after IBM's Big Blue defeated the chess champion Garry Kasparov, the second man-vs.-machine matchup kicked off at NEC Research Institute Inc. outside Princeton where scientists developed the new software.
And the Othello enthusiasts who watched didn't have much hope that man would pull through this time, either.
"I'd really like to see Murakami win a game," said Ryan Matreyek, an Othello player from Newton. "But I assume the computer's going to win."
The tournament continues Wednesday morning and runs through Thursday. The winner takes home $3,000 and the runner-up earns $1,000. If Logistello wins, NEC will use the prize money for computer research projects.
The last time an Othello champion took on a computer program in a similar format was in 1980 when Hiroshi Inouye won five of six games against the best technology then available.
Murakami, 32, agreed to take on the computer after an article appeared in a computer magazine a few years ago accusing Othello players of cowardice for avoiding man-versus-machine matchups.
Credit: Daniel Hulshizer/Associated Press Takeshi Murakami, right, the world Othello champion from Tokyo, makes an early move during his second game against a computer, programmed by Michael Buro, left, at the NEC Research Institute on Monday.
In Othello, two players take turns placing small circular discs -- white on one side, black on the other -- on a gameboard of 64 squares. The pieces are flipped when sandwiched by opposite color discs; the object is to have more discs left at the end of the game than your opponent.
The game began in Europe in the 1500s, though the modern version was created in Japan in 1977. Othello takes its name from Shakespeare's play -- the black disc represents Othello and the white, Desdemona.
Murakami said the game is far more popular in Japan than in America. Nine Japanese television stations and newspapers covered Monday's game, watching on a giant screen television as the drama played out in a silent room down the hall.
"In Japan it is hard to find someone who has never heard of Othello," he said. "They have more interest in this than in the chess match."
But unlike in chess, where the grand masters routinely beat computers until this year, the best Othello players have often been humbled by computers. Since 1980, no world champion had taken on a computer in an official tournament format and it is not uncommon for Othello players to use pseudonyms when playing computers on the Internet to avoid embarrassment.
Mark Brockington, an Othello programmer, said humans are more competitive in chess because the modern game has a longer history.
There is absolutely nothing to fear from the current batch of computer programs. They will not take anybody's job. Mark Brockington,
"The technology is equivalent in computer chess and computer Othello," said Brockington, a doctoral student at the University of Alberta. "But the quality of strategy used by humans [in Othello] hasn't had 100 years to develop."
Monday's game saw Logistello jump out to an early advantage and never falter.
"It's like a car competing with a motorcycle," Murakami said after the loss.
C. William Gear, president of NEC's Research Institute, said the program developed by Michael Buro is particularly impressive because "unlike Big Blue ... this is running on a standard" personal computer.
Buro, who began work on Logistello in 1994, said the program learned how to play by competing more than 100,000 times against itself. The software is not available in stores.
And among those gathered to watch the game today, there seemed to be little concern about Logistello's commanding victory.
"There is absolutely nothing to fear from the current batch of computer programs," Brockington said. "They will not take anybody's job ... they will not help in understanding philosophy.
"It really is a brute force computer ... rather than a computer that actually thinks."
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