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Go Grandmaster Loses Tournament Against Google’s AlphaGo

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Google’s AlphaGo is on a roll. In January, the artificially intelligent Go-playing robot became the first computer to beat a professional player at the Chinese board game Go. Now, WIRED reports that AlphaGo has made its most decisive victory, beating Go Grandmaster Lee Sedol four to one in a five-game Go tournament.

While computers have vanquished professional chess players, bested humans at Jeopardy, and even solved Connect Four, this is the first time a computer has competed professionally in and won a Go tournament against a player at Sedol’s level. Go, which is played on a 19-by-19 grid, has more possible opening moves than perhaps any other board game. For instance, while Connect Four has seven possible opening moves, and chess has 20 possible openings, Go has 361. The sheer number of possible moves in a Go game has historically made developing a Go-playing computer hugely challenging.

AlphaGo, however, is a triumph in AI technology. The computer system used a neural network to not only learn Go moves from professional players, but to develop its own strategies and skills by playing against itself, CNET reports.

AlphaGo, the "player" at left, was aided by a human assistant who moved the pieces on the Go board. At right, Grandmaster Lee Sedol. Image credit: Getty

The tournament put the differences between humans and computers into sharp relief. On the one hand, AlphaGo played an idiosyncratic game, according to WIRED, making moves throughout the tournament that no human would choose. (As you can see in the photo above, AlphaGo got a physical assist from a human helper who moved the pieces on the Go board.) It also made mistakes that seemed amateurish to human observers. Sedol, on the other hand, made at least one uniquely human choice: After beating AlphaGo while playing with white pieces in the fourth Go match—his only victory—he chose black pieces for the fifth and final game, a decision he knew would put him at a disadvantage.

Throughout his first four games, Sedol had noticed AlphaGo struggling more when it played with black pieces, and so, rather than play it safe in the fifth game, he decided to see if he could beat the computer at its strongest. “I really do hope I can win with black,” he told WIRED before the final game, “because winning with black is much more valuable.”

Though Sedol ultimately lost, the game against AlphaGo was nevertheless a win for human innovation.

"The game showed that AlphaGo is far from infallible," explains WIRED. "There are holes in its education. But, able to draw on months of play with itself—on a corpus of moves that no human has even seen—it also has the ability to climb out of such a deep hole, even against one of the world’s best players."

[h/t WIRED]

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"American Mall," Bloomberg
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Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work
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When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]

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