Soccer takes the Prize but Machine Intelligence is the Winner
The annual conference of the BCS Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence hosts the BCS Machine Intelligence Competition. The competition is definitely not a group of researchers reading out academic papers, it is a step into a world of risk for most competitors. In the words of Rick Magaldi from British Airways, the competition is an opportunity for system developers to fling themselves into the unknown in front of an audience of critical and knowledgeable observers to see if their systems can fly, figuratively speaking. Each competitor offers a live demonstration of a system that is judged by how much progress it represents to the development of Machine Intelligence. The audience don’t know about the technology or the theory, they judge the entry on what it actually does during the demonstration.
This year, four excellent demonstrations produced a close run competition, but the winner, with a late goal, was a system presented by Martin Rhodes and Simon Coupland from De Montfort University, that uses evolutionary algorithms to work out which of thousands of options is the best way to take a free kick. The 15 minute demonstration consisted of several examples, each based on an actual free kick. The demonstrators first showed a real free kick from a recent soccer game and then set their system to work on the same problem faced by the kicker. A screen display showed the system testing out many ideas before suggesting the ones that were, it thought, most likely to result in a goal. In some cases, the system derived the same kick as the one actually used by the kicker before suggesting alternative options. In other cases the system disagreed with the kicker and suggested a different option from the one used.
Whilst the human soccer player probably drew on years of experience and practice to work out the best kick; the computer system had to rely on the physics of ball spin and momentum and a range of other variables to produce a winning kick. One of the kicks tested by the system was a goal scored by David Beckham. Maybe his secret was to use a similar system to learn from, or maybe not.
Full details of the 2008 competition, including details of the other finalists, can be found at http://www.comp.leeds.ac.uk/chrisn/micomp/2008.html