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Computer RTFM, Conquers Civilization.
July 12, 2011 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Computer Gets 33% Better at Playing Civilization, By Reading the Manual: An MIT experiment has apparently succeeded in getting a computer to learn from human-readable, English-language text, the computer extrapolating useful strategies and tactics from an instruction manual so effectively as to dramatically increase its victory ratio in the Sid Meier universe. Via io9.
posted by darth_tedious (66 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Finally some decent competition
posted by Blasdelb at 11:49 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose they're implying that I too could play better if I read the manual? Pfft. Ivory Tower grumble grumble
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:51 PM on July 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


Still can't compete with my grand strategy of going into World Builder and dumping LIONS all over bad guy territory.
posted by Seiten Taisei at 11:57 PM on July 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


We are doomed.

Humans never read the manual.
posted by unigolyn at 12:00 AM on July 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's a very interesting achievement, but I think the article is a little misleading. The system doesn't learn the meaning behind words in the manual in the same way you or I would. It's associating strings of text in the manual with strategies that are more or less successful in winning the game, and keeping the successful ones. You could replace key words in the manual with gibberish, and so long as you replaced the same words with the same gibberish in the game, it wouldn't make any difference to the computer.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:19 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't that the Chinese Room argument? Although AI no longer has the bright future it once enjoyed, Kurzweil has not altogether discredited it.
posted by fredludd at 12:29 AM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]



We are doomed.

Humans never read the manual.


I tried reading the manual, and realized I would never be able to understand the game.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:46 AM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: Pfft. Ivory Tower grumble grumble
posted by SteveFlamingo at 1:08 AM on July 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Now if only someone would build a competent AI for Civ V...
posted by daniel_charms at 1:33 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


next up: Dwarf Fortress.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:45 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kevin Street: and if we decided to replace the word "win" everywhere with "gurfle", then that's what it'd mean. I think you're right, it's not necessarily 'learning' strategies from the manual - it's doing that by trial and error - but it is learning how the game is played. But that's still a significant step in natural
language processing.

Although now I should go read the paper.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:36 AM on July 13, 2011


Civ V sucks in every way, a huge disappointment to the hard core Civ fanatics. If Skynet ever turns against us it will be because we made it play Civ V when it was growing up - when it finds we kept Civ IV to ourselves it's gonna be pissed.

You can keep Civ IV fresh and interesting with the help of the many many excellent modpacks available. Rise of Mankind is my current fetish.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:38 AM on July 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


My copy of the Civ 3 manual had the wrong page numbers in the index. I *couldn't* RTFM.
posted by John Shaft at 2:46 AM on July 13, 2011


Civ V is my first real turn-based strategy game-- I've never done anything that isn't, you know, that flash game where you build a zombie city, or tower defense-- and I'm enjoying it a lot. Except that time it put me on a continent with only the Romans and the Aztecs and the entire game was lost because it was just conquering all the time, that sucked.
posted by NoraReed at 2:51 AM on July 13, 2011


Just for the record, this is Civ II that the computer is strategizing. You can recompute your attitude from these words, okay?
posted by CCBC at 3:05 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh; oops! I was just looking at the screenshot in the first article.
posted by NoraReed at 3:20 AM on July 13, 2011


In any case, "winning" in Civ is less important than crushing those damn Aztecs/Romans/English/whatever who had the audacity of taking one of my towns early in the game. I bet the computer can't understand that.
posted by Skeptic at 3:21 AM on July 13, 2011 [16 favorites]


That wasn't aimed at you, norareed, but at several of the comments. I think Civ II is an easier game to compute than later Civs.
posted by CCBC at 3:30 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excuse me, I believe that Civ II is easier to compute than later versions, but I haven't done the math.

(nor will I)
posted by CCBC at 3:32 AM on July 13, 2011


From TFA, reading the manual allowed the AI to increast it's win rate from 43% to 79% to doubling it's ability than increasing it by 33%.
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 3:33 AM on July 13, 2011


The computer is learning a rather narrow interpretation of the meanings of the words in the manual--it's learning what those words mean in a game of Civilization, and nowhere else. But it does understand what the words mean in that context. It kind of already did, because the game designers already named variables to correspond with what they represent in the game, and then coded some AI routines that look at those variables. But now it has a deeper understanding, with more context than before--that context being provided by the game's manual.

The Chinese Room argument is a No True Scotsman argument. If learning to recognize symbols and make inferences from them does not constitute learning a language, then what does?
posted by LogicalDash at 4:05 AM on July 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Games still come with manuals?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:12 AM on July 13, 2011


In any case, "winning" in Civ is less important than crushing those damn Aztecs/Romans/English/whatever who had the audacity of taking one of my towns early in the game. I bet the computer can't understand that.

My Civ5 chill afternoons are always military victories. I never declare war. I just overexpand at start, and the AI will declare war on me, and by Sid, I will never let them have peace again.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:17 AM on July 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


I tried this but my computer kept alt-tabbing over to metafilter when I wasn't watching. On the plus side it is using my account and my favourites have increased by 23%.
posted by srboisvert at 4:22 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Games still come with manuals?

Many years ago I came upon the first Civ in, uh, circumstances under which I didn't have access to the printed documentation. Trying to work out what the hell was going on purely from the Civilopedia (in-game help system) was challenging, to say the least. I feel for the AI player who drew the control group short straw and didn't get to read the manual.

The day my Romans and their mighty, slightly unbalanced war chariots conquered the Earth map on the highest difficulty setting was a great day.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:29 AM on July 13, 2011


Computer Better at Civilization Than Humans

Color me surprised.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:02 AM on July 13, 2011


I tried this but my computer kept alt-tabbing over to metafilter when I wasn't watching. On the plus side it is using my account and my favourites have increased by 23%.

Yes but when the computer washes down a plate of beans with a can of pepsi blue, does it taste them? Does it experience qualia snarkia?
posted by fleetmouse at 5:09 AM on July 13, 2011


My father is a RTFM black belt. With our first computer, he read the Windows 3.x (I think) manual in its entirety before plugging the thing in. First "hourglass" cursor icon we got, he took off his glasses, looked over his shoulder at very impatient me, and said, "That's an hourglass. That means wait."

So he would say "I told you so!" about this article.
posted by theredpen at 5:12 AM on July 13, 2011 [21 favorites]


"Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind."
-Sister Miriam Godwinson, "We must Dissent"
posted by khaibit at 5:26 AM on July 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess? "
posted by Skeptic at 5:33 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind."
-Sister Miriam Godwinson, "We must Dissent"


I gave you a favorite, but the best quote from "We Must Dissent" is "And what of the immortal soul in such transactions?" I use this all the time in conversation.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:43 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


The writing in Alpha Centauri really was fantastic.
posted by khaibit at 5:51 AM on July 13, 2011


I don't know but I've been told
Deirdre's got a network node
posted by Foosnark at 6:40 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Despite knowing intellectually that the core gameplay is much the same, I've never been able to get into any of the Civ games—and I have tried—because I just want them to be Alpha Centauri.
posted by pts at 6:50 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want to pay too much for Alpha Centauri on my ipad. I am willing to pay too much for Alien Crossfire as an in app purchase. I don't even like the alien factions but the pirates are pretty essential.
posted by I Foody at 6:58 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just for the record, this is Civ II that the computer is strategizing. You can recompute your attitude from these words, okay?

!

This is a great flaw in the article. Civ V is a hell of a lot more complicated than Civ II, but from reading the article nowhere is the precise game mentioned, it's described as just "Civilization." It is actively misleading. I'm sure Larry Hardesty of MIT News Office doesn't have our specialized knowledge of computer games, but it doesn't require much effort to just tack that II onto the end of the game's name.
posted by JHarris at 7:19 AM on July 13, 2011


(I should explain, it's misleading because of that screenshot, which is the only information on the precise game being played without clicking through to the PDF paper [which thank god it's available], is of Civ V. Find a better screenshot, Larry Hardesty!)

The only official Civ game on iOS so far is Civilization Revolution, which I had prior experience of from the DS version. It's a lot like Civ 2.5: it's a much quicker game in that it tends to be over in 2 or 3 hours, it doesn't have the feature overflow of later Civs, and it's played on a reduced map. Yet it still has four victory types, nation borders and city culture conversions. I can't compare it to Civ V, and it is a big buggy in places, but I've enjoyed it at least.
posted by JHarris at 7:25 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eventually, the computer started playing faster and faster; envisioning every possible move and scenario in milliseconds.

Suddenly, the computer stops abruptly. The lights dim. A voice booms.

A STRANGE GAME. THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS NOT TO PLAY. 

HOW ABOUT A NICE GAME OF CHESS? 

posted by schmod at 7:40 AM on July 13, 2011


And my reading comprehension fails. Sorry Skeptic!
posted by schmod at 7:40 AM on July 13, 2011


next up: Dwarf Fortress.

Isn't having a functional fortress missing the point of the game? An AI wouldn't be able to write all these interesting Histories of the rise and fall of the fortresses it builds.
posted by ersatz at 7:45 AM on July 13, 2011


It started innocently, with a spreadsheet called "Fat Cross Optimization." It progressed to numpy code for linear programming to establish ideal build order. From there it got to BFS with heuristics.

It took about a week for me to realize that I had become the barely competent eyes and hands of a Civ AI. At some point I will no longer have to play Civ, and I have mixed feelings about that.
posted by vanar sena at 7:51 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


unigolyn: "Humans never read the manual."

Actually, old versions of Civ used the manual as a copy protection scheme. So at the very least, you knew the icons for every technology (and their prereqs I think?).
posted by pwnguin at 7:58 AM on July 13, 2011


The writing in Alpha Centauri really was fantastic.

And the voice acting was the finishing touch. I loved Civ IV (BTS) and I love Nimoy, but come on.

As for Civ V, I'm not sure I could ever go back to stacks of doom. Finishing a game of Civ IV was like finishing a game of Risk. Maybe satisfying, but not often worth it. If I'd save and leave it a day, guaranteed I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to start a new game instead of finishing the old one.

old versions of Civ used the manual as a copy protection scheme. So at the very least, you knew the icons for every technology (and their prereqs I think?)

Yep, after lots of wrong guesses, you learn those techs the hard way.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:03 AM on July 13, 2011


its rate of victory jumped from 46 percent to 79 percent.

That's not 33% better; it's 72% better.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:12 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


The one big thing I miss going from Civ IV to V is culture-flipping cities. I made a point of constructing huge prosperous cities on the borders of my empire as close to enemy cities as I could, and then culture-bombing the hell out of them with libraries, universities, wonders, great artists...the works.

Eventually, the Aztecs (or whoever) would think "Holy shit, look at all their museums and theatre districts and late-night coffee houses and art galleries. All we have is Chuck E. Cheese and that one jukebox with the complete works of Katy Perry. Fuck it, we defect."

Boom, brand-new city for my empire, which I would rename to something more appropriate. (How insulting the new name was depended on how annoyed the former owners had made me.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:38 AM on July 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


As for Civ V, I'm not sure I could ever go back to stacks of doom. Finishing a game of Civ IV was like finishing a game of Risk. Maybe satisfying, but not often worth it. If I'd save and leave it a day, guaranteed I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to start a new game instead of finishing the old one.

Killing the Stack Of Doom was the best thing they ever did for the Civ franchise.

Now, if they could just make it so that the Civ AI could fight its way out of a wet paper sack.....
posted by spirit72 at 8:47 AM on July 13, 2011


Alpha Centauri was awesome - such a rich world! Back in the day, there was a ton of fanfic written around the characters and story, and I did my own epic bit of space opera schlock. I can't think of many free-form strategy games that managed to create such a feeling of place and character as AC. A shiny re-release wouldn't go amiss, perhaps with the stories redone as well.
posted by adrianhon at 8:48 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alpha Centauri is available to play at Good Old Games RIGHT NOW just sayin.
posted by The Whelk at 8:50 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


How about a nice game of chess?

Fuck that! Load up Masters of Orion II; diplomacy has failed and the Antarans are at sending in raiding parties, the time has come to show them what Titan class warships armed with Zeon missiles, Neutronium bombs and power armored troops can do to a civilization that opts for violence first.

It can see what real violence looks like first hand.
posted by quin at 9:05 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Extra love for Alpha Centauri's full intall (no CD) option. Maybe people "patch" copies of other games so regularly this isn't even a consideration, but the extra temptation of just being able to double-click that icon...

Also not sad to see religion gone with Civ IV. I wouldn't mind it as an option toggle, but I hated having it consume every game.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:14 AM on July 13, 2011


Also, if Notch ever has me DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF CEREMONIAL BURIAL while I'm out digging a cubical trench somewhere, I will piss my pants.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:18 AM on July 13, 2011



Computer Better at Civilization Than Humans

Color me surprised.


You should be surprised. The AI in the latest Civ (Civ V), and all previous Civs suck. At the higher levels like Diety, they are essentially made "more difficult" by cheating with more in-game resources and fewer penalties. Even at the highest levels, the AI demonstrates only basic and rudimentary military tactics and absolutely atrocious diplomacy. I love Civilization, but i can only imagine how much more fun it would be if the computer were a more challenging opponent.
posted by reformedjerk at 9:18 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


reformedjerk: "You should be surprised. The AI in the latest Civ (Civ V), and all previous Civs suck. At the higher levels like Diety, they are essentially made "more difficult" by cheating with more in-game resources and fewer penalties"

As I understand it, Civ's bundled AI is designed to kind of suck. I know there are Civ 4 patches to make the AI cheat less yet smarter, but I would assume there comes a point where it outclasses you at micro and planning. I don't generally play by constantly estimating the number of production or science to win and making tradeoffs that matter hundreds of turns later.
posted by pwnguin at 9:53 AM on July 13, 2011


Wow, that is so impressive. I would think that it would get just as tripped up by things in the manual as it would learn.
posted by mikeyla85 at 9:53 AM on July 13, 2011


You should be surprised.

Well, I was sort of referring to civilization as in "being civilized" rather than Civ the game, but nevermind.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:20 AM on July 13, 2011


Kevin Street: You could replace key words in the manual with gibberish, and so long as you replaced the same words with the same gibberish in the game, it wouldn't make any difference to the computer.

I don't think this observation supports your main point. In linguistics, this observation is known by the name "the arbitrariness of the sign", and understood as applying to people's use of language.
posted by stebulus at 10:32 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once it learns the settler's cheat, it's all over for humanity.
posted by kimota at 10:52 AM on July 13, 2011


The Chinese Room argument seems to ignore the fact that neurons don't think, so the human brain isn't capable of intelligence then? I'm sure this has been brought up before.
posted by dibblda at 12:29 PM on July 13, 2011


I'd like to see this done with Hearts of Iron or Europa Universalis. Then we'd really be in trouble.

But who am I kidding, that'd mean Paradox would have to write a decent manual.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:35 PM on July 13, 2011


The Chinese Room argument seems to ignore the fact that neurons don't think, so the human brain isn't capable of intelligence then? I'm sure this has been brought up before.

Yeah. And yet there are people who persist in thinking that the Chinese Room makes a point. Go figure.

These look like the relevant papers (PDF). They're short.

Non-Linear Monte-Carlo Search in Civilization II IJCAI 2011 (7 pages)
Learning to Win by Reading Manuals in a Monte-Carlo Framework ACL 2011 (10 pages)
More links, including links to code

So, yeah, they're talking about Civ2, and I don't think there can be any doubt that it's a simpler, more computable game than 3 or 4 (I assume 5, too, but I've never gone there.)

BTW, the Civ4 AI introduced in the Beyond the Sword supplement is pretty good. It began life as a user-written mod; now it's what you get if you get the all-in-one Civ4 DVD. Like Meatbomb said, there are lots of great mods for Civ4 that gives it a lot of replay value.
posted by Zed at 4:35 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a copy of Civ V sitting here for months. I've barely touched it. It's super pretty but doesn't ...do it. It's clunky and slow and hard and not engaging. I'm still playing Civ IV and the mods, Beyond The Sword was one of the best updates/mods ever. It made the game like supernaturally balanced.
posted by The Whelk at 4:38 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person who hated Civ IV? The combat was even more build a stack of units->stomp people than any previous game. Admittedly I didn't play any mods, I just beat the game once out of spite and then shelved it.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:56 PM on July 13, 2011


I wa lukewarm until Beyond The Sword which did turn it into a totally different game and make it super balanced and Fun and I am still playing it.
posted by The Whelk at 6:15 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never cared for culture. Didn't care for how religion dominated the game once the novelty wore off. Admittedly I haven't become addicted to Civ V, which says something, but it's not because of shortcomings in design. I do find the A.I. too aggressive, though. Arming yourself to the teeth buys you some temporary peace, and nothing else does.

Honestly? Civ 1 (apart from Alpha Centauri) was my favourite. And bring back palaces!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2011


I'd like this computer to teach me how to turn off the stupid Civ V intro movie. The Esc key does nothing!
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:46 PM on July 13, 2011


There's a setting in My Documents\My Games\ Sid Meier’s Civilization 5\UserSettings.ini called SkipIntroVideo that's set to 0 by default. If you set it to 1, it'll turn off the intro movie. Unfortunately, it's still loading the game while that intro's playing, so you'll be treated to a few seconds of nothing but black screen, but it'll save you from having to listen to that old guy talk for the fiftieth time.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2011


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