The Rise Of The Bots

The term “bots” has gotten an ill-reputation for itself. Perhaps it is mainly due to the fact that humans tend to take advantage of these bots and use them to gain an unfair edge over other human players. However, bots are not necessarily evil. If you think about it, automated trainers for backgammon (and other games for that matter) are also bots. We use them for a good purpose and they are not considered “evil” then.

That is exactly what Martin Smith had in mind when he created his family of bots – ProBot, RookieBot, AmateurBot, and BeginnerBot. This family of software is the brainchild of Smith, who constantly develops the programs and releases them to the public. Anyone who wants to test his skills and talents against Smith’s bots are welcome to do so.

For those who have the skill AND the money, stakes can go up as high as ?1,000. For those who merely wish to hone their skills without losing a penny, it is also possible with one of the bots. The Financial Times recently featured Smith and his creations and had this to say:

These disembodied opponents are good teachers because they play well both strategically and tactically, unlike a good human player who, in backgammon for example, will tend to deviate from best play in order to ¬punish a lesser opponent’s mistakes. If you go online to play backgammon, you can take on other human players who are also online or you can challenge one of Smith’s programs. And if you choose that latter option, you will be at the coalface of artificial intelligence in the commercial world.

These are contests that take place on constantly shifting terrain. Smith releases his latest version of a program: it wins for a couple of weeks, then the humans figure out how to beat it and they win for a couple of weeks while Smith goes away and works on his software – algorithms, probability calculations, search techniques – and scratches his head. Then he comes back with a new version of the program that wins for a couple of weeks, while the humans go away and think about it. “We have this ratcheting up,” Smith says. “It’s a very intellectually rewarding thing.”

Indeed, the mere challenge of beating a machine – which is supposed to be faster and more logical than a human opponent – is enough for some people. Money need not even be part of the equation. But of course, if you can win ?1,000 while you’re having fun, why not?

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