AI Expert Newsletter
Welcome to the Premier Issue
Welcome to Dr. Dobb's AI Expert Newsletter. Before you begin
to talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI), you have to deal with
the name itself. It leads to impassioned philosophical debates,
like those raging right now on the AI
Forum, and inspires some great science fiction. (The Hyperion
Trilogy by Dan Simmons is my favorite, based on Tom Ray's fascinating
project, but that's for a later newsletter.)
Debates on machine vs. human intelligence are fun, but this newsletter
needs a working definition of AI that more realistically encompasses
the wide variety of fascinating software and hardware usually classified
as AI. So we'll define it in terms of computer nature rather than
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the art and science of making
computers do interesting things that are not in their nature.
What is a computer's nature? Well it has memory that's good for
storing data and a CPU that processes sequences of instructions.
If you have a problem that requires automating data storage, procedures
or both i.e. data processing, then computers are perfect. Other
types of problems are trickier.
one of the earliest AI programs. The developers were posed with
the problem of trying to automate medical diagnostic knowledge that
was best expressed as rules.
The rules were neither data or procedures. Trying to force them
as either was untenable for any significant body of knowledge. So
what could they do?
The answer lies in the words of some long forgotten hardware engineer:
"Software is a kludge for getting around design flaws
in the hardware."
What the Mycin developers really needed was a new kind of computer:
one that processed rules. So they created a virtual machine, they
called it an inference engine, whose nature was ideal for processing
knowledge expressed as diagnostic rules.
People in the AI field have been doing the same thing ever since,
creating virtual machines that are programmed in non-conventional
ways, and using those machines to perform previously untenable programming
Which leads to the problem with an AI newsletter. There isn't a
common language, like Java or C++ that is used for AI applications,
nor are there standards like SQL for database access, or HTML for
Nor are these virtual machines similar. The classic ones deal with
a wide variety of rule languages and reasoning algorithms, while
others deal with semantic networks, neural networks, ontological
knowledgebases, genetic algorithms, artificial life, robot brains,
cellular automata and, of course, games.
And then, given a specific area of AI one can write about how to
build the tool, or write about applications of the tool. The former
is solid programmer stuff; the latter requires some knowledge of
the specific tool, which is often a commercial product.
So I'm asking for your input. There is a wealth of fascinating
subject matter that this newsletter can cover, and I'd like to know
what your interests and experiences are. Send me e-mail. Tell me
what you're currently doing with AI and what you'd like to see covered
in the AI Expert Newsletter. I want the newsletter to meet your
It's a Tie!
Brains in Bahrain was
the latest man-machine chess showdown of champions, pitting Kramik
(a human) against Deep Fritz (a software program). Kramik won the
early matches in what was called a triumph of anti-computer strategy.
Deep Fritz won the later matches in what was called a triumph of
Chess playing has often been considered an ultimate test of machine
intelligence because it is too complex to be mastered using straight-forward
search algorithms. That is, the search space of possible moves is
too great to be explored by a machine.
Early researchers worked on encoding the essence of grandmaster
reasoning to improve performance. They learned, for example, that
grandmasters had greater "pattern vocabularies" than weaker
players. They didn't reason faster than weaker players, but more
efficiently because they were reasoning using larger chunks of knowledge.
With the speed of today's machines, the value of the brute-force
search in chess had become more important. Its ironic that in this
classic test of machine intelligence, computers are playing on a
par with the best humans more by exploiting the natural strengths
of computers, and less by the application of human-like intelligence.
Intelligent or not, today's top chess programs are masterpieces
of software engineering.
It is interesting to note that Deep Fritz is not Deep
Blue, which was dismantled after defeating Kasparov in the last
man-machine chess championship. Deep Blue was an amazing mix of
specialized parallel processing hardware and software capable of
searching 200 million moves per second. Deep Fritz is a souped up
commercial product from ChessBase
running on stock hardware capable of only 3 million moves per second.
They claim it's smarter though.
As for humans, with their feeble CPUs, they still provide stiff
competition for millions-of-moves-per-second machines. It all appears
to revolve around superior recognition and processing of patterns.
And when you take a heavily pattern-oriented game like go,
well computers aren't even close, yet.
1738 Artificial Duck
Dr. Jessica Risken of Standord University has done a study
of a mechanical duck built in 1738 that created the same interest
and excitement as current experiments in artificial life. The parallels
between their desire to use mechanized models to understand real
life, and ours, are fascinating.
Among other things, the duck was realistic in that it ate and pooped.
But if you looked inside, it sort of cheated. Food went in, and
time passed, and poop came out, but the input food was still there,
and the poop had been pre-loaded. So the duck didn't really digest,
it just looked like it did.
That is not dissimilar from the chess programs that look like they
understand the patterns on the board, but instead are processing
millions of individual moves.
But also like the chess programs, the duck was an amazing bit of
engineering and probably a lot of fun to build.
AI Expert Magazine, this newsletter's namesake and inspiration,
was one of the premier magazines covering AI in the early 1990s.
Considering the quality of the magazine, it probably comes as no
surprise that we can still learn from many of the articles published
a decade or more ago. To that end, every month we'll be publishing
an article or two from AI Expert on Dr. Dobb's Journal's AI
Expert Web site. If you recall a favorite AI Expert article
you'd like to see, let us know.
Chess: the Drosophila of AI by L. Stephen Coles. Chess has been
called the fruit fly of AI research. This in depth article covers
the history of chess playing machines from a 1770 mechanical automaton
(like the duck!) to Deep Blue.
The American Association of Artificial
Intelligence (AAAI) is a non-profit scientific organization
devoted to supporting AI research and development. They have conferences
and journals and an excellent Web site that introduces AI
research and topics.
John McCarthy of Standord University has one of the great minds
of AI and is one of AI's founders. See his views on what AI is at
is AI Web site. He's got some ideas in there on computer chess
Mellon AI Repository has a large collection of AI software,
resources and links, although some are out of date. Included in
the resources is a directory of major
The MIT Media Lab's Web
site list describes a large number of fascinating research projects.
Kurzweil's AI site has
numerous papers, books and discussions of the deepest issues with
Dr. Dobb's Journal's AI
Topics Web site has a number of interesting links to sites,
papers, books and FAQs, as well as a discussion forum.
PCAI magazine has a wealth of information
about AI technologies and products on their Web site.
search algorithm is the core technology for two player games.
It finds the best move for each player by examining a tree of possible
future moves. The link is to some excellent course materials at
The International Computer
Games Association (ICGA) Web site has a tremendous amount of
information on computer chess and other games. In particular, check
out the excellent article anatomy
of a chess program with its in depth description of the design
of chess programs.
Chess Club has a long list of free chess programs and related
tools, with short descriptions of each. Some are available with
has a longer list of free chess programs as well as a directory
and reviews of commercial
is a full open source chess program with the admirable goals of
1) being a competitive program, and 2) having clearly commented
and written code ideal for learning about and tinkering with a chess