[Humanist] 22.527 when games met computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Feb 14 09:26:19 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 527.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2009 18:12:05 -0600
        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.511 what happened when games met computing?
        In-Reply-To: <20090209105008.D70252A6E3 at woodward.joyent.us>

Oh, my. I will try to help. The responses you've gotten all seem to be  
from the "video game" era. I was there when we played computer games  
on teletypes. When the height of computer gaming was a visit to the  
Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University where they played  
multi-person Asteroids on the computer consoles of the DEC-20. I'll  
try and track down some of the earlier material if I can. While I know  
first hand of the appearance of computer games in academia when  
interactive computing became possible (i.e., time-sharing) I don't  
know whether that was the beginning. I have a feeling people were  
trying to play chess with a computer during the punch-card era.

OK. Let me say what I believe. I think computers and games converged  
because of the artificial intelligence community. That would tend to  
say that you should ask the pioneers of that field when they recall  
the first computer games being played on computers. Marvin Minsky  
would seem the person to ask.

How did each affect the other... Well, getting a computer to play  
games was a primary target of AI. There was a famous challenge from  
Dreyfus that Computers could never play Chess well enough to defeat a  
Grand Master. Game playing by computer was seen as a fundamental test  
to prove human-level capabilities for machines. It was a primary topic  
in early AI, with each new game being seen as an interesting advance  
when a computer could be programmed to master it.

Game-playing was also the origin of a famous argument between  
'ability' and 'understanding' in the AI community. Samuels at MIT  
invented a Checker Playing program which learned how to improve its  
game of Checkers by adjusting statistical weights on different moves.  
Marvin Minsky berated the methodology used in the program because  
while the machine learned to play better checkers, the code of the  
program couldn't be examined to understand the strategy used by the  
program. Minsky wanted "rules" that would teach us something about the  
game of checkers, rules we could understand---not JUST a computer  
program that could play better checkers than a human being.

This conflict persists in the game of Chess, where the computer's  
success is largely due to its ability to "look ahead" (i.e.. calculate  
entire chess board configurations and evaluate them) more moves than a  
human being can see; effectively performing a sheer computational feat  
rather than coming up with rules or even remembering prior games.

Given that I believe your answer lies with the AI Community, you could  
try the earliest literature from that field as the sources. Books like  
"Computers and Thought" (Feigenbaum) and Pamela McCorduck's "Machines  
Who Think" would seem good starting places.

Quoting Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 511.
>          Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Mon, 09 Feb 2009 10:48:46 +0000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         >
> I would be very grateful for recommendations of sources for the history
> of game-playing in the early decades of computing. I am particularly
> interested in histories that look at the confluence of the two rather
> than implementation and development of computer games. This confluence
> is in a sense utterly obvious -- one form of rule-governed behaviour
> meeing a rule-governing machine. But what is *not* so obvious about this
> meeting? How did each affect the other?
> Thanks very much for any guidance.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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