SFTW Thinking Machines 4

Each week Iain Simons selects a game for you to while away hours. Read about it, play it but don't l

Often the most fascinating parts of the game aren’t the outcome, but the decisions that lead one there.

Hearing a great commentator discussing a sport about which you know little can be one of the most exciting and illuminating of experiences.

That sensation of being rapidly inducted into strategies which were apparent, but not wholly understandable never fails to intoxicate.

I often feel this when hearing developers talking about videogames. In particular, some of the best demonstrations I’ve seen have seldom been about breathtaking new graphical capabilities, but artificial intelligence (A.I.).

Whilst new rendering technologies providing near photo-real graphics are usually touted as the enablers to making worlds which we can truly believe in, the truth is that the algorithms which determine the behaviour of in-game elements are far more persuasive.

The pursuit of convincing A.I. is a fascinating subject. To understand and create persuasive A.I.

Behaviour, one has to understand at least a little of what it is to be human. Fascinating though it is however, there’s always a slight feeling of discomfort that someone, somewhere is attempting to distill that slight feeling of discomfort into something that can be algorithmically reproduced.

Thinking Machines 4 is a more palatable version of that man-machine relationship, moreover - it’s also beautiful. Taking a rudimentary Chess program, with each turn it exposes the potential moves the computer is considering through a gracefully sketched diagram overlaid onto the board. The experience reveals its real depth only in the play of a full game. As the machine gradually refines and rejects strategies, the narrative of the game thinking before you becomes more and more compelling. The developer has posted an example gallery which demonstrates this well, although this is well worth a few minutes of your quiet attention to actually play.

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Thinking Machines 4

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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