Thursday, April 18, 2013

Heated Battle between Human and Computer on Shogi

April 20, 2013 can be a special day for Shogi (Japanese Chess) fans and computer science researchers. This is the day of a battle of Shogi equivalent to the chess match between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue when a computer chess machine defeated the chess champion. From last month there has been a five-game match between professional Shogi players and computers and April 20 is the day of the last match.

The history of computer Shogi is not short. Even Nintendo's original Family Computer had a Shogi game. However, artificial intelligences (AIs) have been considered to be weak. One important moment was March 21, 2007, when Akira Watanabe, the title holder of Ryuo (Dragon King) had a match with a computer software Bonanza. Although Ryuo Watanabe won the game, he acknowledged the strength of Bonanza, saying, "I should admit that (the level of computer Shogi) is just below the level of professional Shogi players."

Then, Japan Shogi Association ("JSA") banned professional Shogi players from officially battling against the computer. In 2010, the Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ) sent a letter of challenge, asking to fight against professional Shogi players. JSA first offered to fight against a professional female champion who is regarded as one the strongest female Shogi players in Japan. (Note that (although I do not know why but) female professional Shogi players are generally weaker than male professional Shogi players.) The computer software called "Bonklers" defeated the woman champion.

As a result, five matches in a row are being held to decide which is stronger. The five strongest Shogi playing AIs were selected based on the result of World Computer Shogi Championships. JSA selected, three young professional Shogi players, one ex-title holder and one top player.

The result so far has been surprising. In the first battle, a young professional player defeated the software after thorough preparation, using the software provided by the developer. But on the second and third battle, although both parties seemed to have chances to win, the computer defeated professional players, making use of the professional players' mistakes. So, the first three battle was 2 to 1 for the computers. Another defeat means that humans are weaker than computers.

On April 13, 2013, Yasuaki Tsukada, the ex-title holder battled against Puella α, the descendent of Bonanza (matched against Ryuo Watanabe). To be objective, Tsukada has been out of the "top ten professional Shogi players" for more than 15 years. And as expected, the first half of the match was at the computer's pace. Tsukada lost most of his important pieces and virtually all the viewers believed his defeat. However, he never gave up. Under the rule of Shogi, when the game continues for a very long time and it is difficult for either party to check the kings, parties are entitled to draw the match under a certain condition. Tsukada, finding a narrow hope of satisfying such a condition, continued to play for nearly ten hours and finally satisfied the condition to draw the game. Tsukada's fighting spirit moved many viewers.

On April 20, 2013, Hiroyuki Miura plays a match against GPS Shogi. A defeat would mean the defeat of humans against computers in two ways. First, a defeat would mean 3 to 1 (with one tie) for computers in this five-games-in-row match. Second, as Miura is one of the ten top professional players, a defeat would mean that computers are stronger than the top players. The match is broadcasted through an internet broadcast website, Niconico. No Shogi fans and computer science researchers interested in artificial intelligence can miss it!




April 20: Mr. Miura lost. GPS Shogi won and one may be able to say that it was demonstrated that humans are weaker than computers.



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