“Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino

From the foot of the Great Khan’s throne a majolica pavement extended. Marco Polo, mute informant, spread out on it the samples of the wares he had brought back from his journeys to the ends of the empire: a helmet, a seashell, a coconut, a fan. Arranging the objects in a certain order on the black and white tiles, and occasionally shifting them with studied moves, the ambassador tried to depict for the monarch’s eyes the vicissitudes of his travels, the conditions of the empire, the prerogatives of the distant provincial seats.

Kublai was a keen chess player; following Marco’s movements, he observed that certain pieces implied or excluded the vicinity of other pieces and were shifted along certain lines. Ignoring the objects’ variety of form, he could grasp the system of arranging one with respect to the others on the majolica floor. He thought: “If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.”

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“Cybernetics and Ghosts” by Italo Calvino

Shannon, Weiner, von Neumann, and Turing have radically altered our image of our mental processes. In the place of the ever-changing cloud that we carried in our heads until the other day, the condensing and dispersal of which we attempted to understand by describing impalpable psychological states and shadowy landscapes of the soul–in the place of all this we now feel the rapid passage of signals on the intricate circuits that connect the relays, the diodes, the transistors with which or skulls are crammed. Just as no chess player will ever live long enough to exhaust all the combinations of possible moves for the thirty-two pieces on the chessboard, so we know (given the fact that our minds are chessboards with hundreds of billions of pieces) that not even in a lifetime lasting as long as the universe would one ever manage to make all possible plays. But we also know that all these are implicit in the overall code of mental plays, according to the rules by which each of us, from one moment to the next, formulates his thoughts, swift or sluggish, cloudy or crystalline as they may be.


Chess Variants

Chess has always been variant. Today there are thousands of mutations, transformations, and reorganizations of the classic game. I’m partial to those chess programs by Torus Games which allow you to play on boards stretched over imaginary topologies like Möbius strips and Klein bottles: http://www.math.ntnu.no/~dundas/75060/TorusGames/html/Chess.html

Alongside these programs you can find thousands of custom chess boards featuring strange situations and perplexing puzzles:


A History of Computer Chess

Understanding the history of computer chess as a field for measuring the intelligence of machines (and humans) is crucial to developing Neosentient Games. At first, citing the Mechanical Turk as a starting point for this history seems like a misnomer. The Mechanical Turk exhibits no autonomy and, in fact, isn’t strictly a computer. However, since the Neosentient will be invented through anthromorphic introspection, perhaps the idea of an augmented human (or augmented computer) is a good place to start developing Neosentient Games. After loosing to Big Blue in 1997, Gary Kasparov invented a chess variant for augmented play. Many chess masters create variants based on their intimate knowledge of the sport, adding or omitting pieces and extending the board, but Kasparov’s version of chess incorporated focused on augmenting the original game of chess by giving each human player a mechanical team mate. In Kasparov’s Augmented Chess, each human player could query their computer assistant for information. Is this the beginning of Neosentient Games? How can we develop this field towards the notion of the Neosentient?


Computer Vision Tools

There are many amazing tools for computer vision. Some helpful programming environments are Max/MSP/Jitter and PureData:


With Max/MSP/Jitter there are a couple libraries for tracking and interpreting video:

cv.jit by Jean-Mark Pelletier – http://jmpelletier.com/cvjit/
softVNS by David Rokeby – http://homepage.mac.com/davidrokeby/softVNS.html
Cyclops by Eric Singer – http://cycling74.com/products/cyclops/

You can also use different types of input, like the Kinect and Wii Remote. More on this later…

End Game and Game Over

Kasparov vs. Deep Blue

On February 10, 1996, Deep Blue became the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion (Garry Kasparov) under regular time controls. After the loss, Kasparov said that he sometimes saw deep intelligence and creativity in the machine’s moves, suggesting that during the second game, human chess players had intervened on behalf of the machine, which would be a violation of the rules. Though Kasparov felt “deep intelligence and creativity,” this aesthetic of sentience was merely a bi-product of Deep Blue ability to evaluate over 200 million positions per second. Can we design a playful machine?