This AI Can Beat You at Battleship by Learning How to Ask Smart Questions

NYU scientists teach an artificial intelligence program to win at "Battleship" by asking questions.


Researchers at NYU have apparently decided to ruin childhoods and taught an artificial-intelligence system to play the game of Battleship with amazing skill. 

In the somewhat modified version of Battleship that this AI can play, it has to find an opponent’s ships hidden on a small grid of squares. All it can do to accomplish that is ask a series of questions that can be answered with a word or a single number.

The AI program demonstrates how machines can learn by asking questions. As reported by Will Knight of MIT Technology Review, the system looks at each question as a miniature program. After it processes what it learns, the program comes up with new and more precise questions. 

Researchers Brenden Lake and Todd Gureckis, assistant professors at NYU, as well as Anselm Rothe, a graduate student, translated questions a human would ask to find the ships using a programming language. The questions included such inquiries as “How long is the blue ship?” and “Does the blue ship have four tiles?” or “Do the blue and red ships touch?” The machine then used a probabilistic model to determine which questions were the most useful and how to construct new questions to win the game. 

This method of programming AI to generate smart questions is different from the usual approach where machines are simply fed a ton of data from which to come up with their own examples. The researchers see an application of their technology in fields like customer service. 

“Having dialogue systems that generate novel questions so that they can get more informative answers on the fly is going to make human-computer interaction more effortless and make these systems more useful and fun to use,” said Brenden Lake. 

The AI created by the researchers was actually able to construct “the ultimate question” for the game. It’s not a question a person would be able to follow or answer easily as it uses mathematical logic. But theoretically, answering it would allow the AI to back-calculate the whole board. 

You can read the new paper “Question Asking as Program Generation” here.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less