The Bug House Files

Thoughts on the rock-paper-scissors robot

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Japanese scientists have invented a robot that wins games of rock-paper-scissors against human opponents every time.

Inventing an earthquake-proof nuclear reactor might have been more useful, but hey – at least they’ll have something to while away the time in the fall-out shelters of Tokyo should there be a repeat of Fukushima.

As usual the devil is in the detail, however. The robot’s secret is that it uses recognition software to identify the shape the human opponent is making with their hand and then select the winning move in less than a millisecond.

In other words, it is a cheat. A state-of-the-art cheat, sure, but a cheat nevertheless.

Who's knocking?: dommies is a traditional northern game

Who’s knocking?: dommies is a traditional northern game

Here in the north of England, rock-paper-scissors is regarded as a cissy’s game. The traditional game of choice in pubs and clubs is dominoes, which requires steady nerve, rat-like cunning, and the ability – if you are to be taken seriously, that is – to hold seven “dommies” in one hand.

Many years ago I drank in a pub in Newcastle called the Millstone, where the undisputed dommie king was a gimlet-eyed old fellow called Ernie Gaskin.

He is long dead now, but I would have paid a lot of money to watch him take on a Japanese “Dom-Bot” at penny-a-knock threes and fives. It would have been like chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov versus the Deep Blue computer, except Ernie wouldn’t have lost.

It’s probably just as well the clash will never happen. Not only is dommies a resolutely human game, relying on the ability to sense an opponent’s next move, but if the robot was anything like its cheating rock-paper-scissors-playing mate it would have been taken out to the car park and kicked into very small bits.

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Author: Jim Ford

I'm an author and journalist. "The Bug House" series of Tyneside-based crime novels is published in 2014

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