Civ 2 Makes the WSJ!

From Today's paper:

The paper edition also had a screen shot from a Civ 2 game.


A Computer That Reads the [Darn] Manual

By Christopher Shea

Researchers have shown that a computer can master the video game Civilization II—in part by reading the manual.

In Civilization II, players decide how to deploy entities like settlers and explorers, on a map of the world divided into squares; the goal is to dominate as many squares as possible.

Like other artificial-intelligence programs, this new one, devised by researchers at M.I.T. and University College London, took in information about game circumstances and predicted the outcome of hundreds of moves each turn. It looked 20 moves down the line, for each of some 500 possible moves.

But in some cases it also scanned the manual, which is 35,000 words long and which, importantly, offers broad strategic guidance rather than a list of rules to follow. That’s one of the differences between this study and one from 2009, also from the lab of M.I.T.’s Regina Barzilay, in which a computer generated scripts for installing computer software by consulting the directions on Microsoft’s help site.

Without looking at the manual, the program won 46% of its games against the game’s built-in automated opponent. But when it read the guidelines, its win rate jumped to 79%.

“Learning to Win by Reading Manuals in a Monte-Carlo Framework,” S.R.K. Branavan, David Silver and Regina Barzilay, Proceedings of the Association for Computational Linguistics (2011)

PS As Ars Technica, which has similar taste in headlines to mine, notes, the Wall Street Journal played a bit part in this study. To explore whether the program was properly identifying relevant sentences, the researchers in one test added random sentences from the Journal to the manual’s text.

The program identified the correct sentences a disappointing 72%, on average—although the figure was 94% in the first 25 game steps.

Contrary to what Ars Technica says, however, the researchers do explain this finding in their paper. The manual focuses on the early stages of the game—unsurprisingly, they say, since it is intended for first-time players. Therefore, the manual becomes less relevant as each game progresses.

But as with chess, a well-executed initial strategy can set the tenor for games of Civilization II, which would help to explain why reading the manual still led to more wins, even if it became less relevant in long games.

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