What is General Game Playing?

General game playing is about playing games that you've never seen before. While humans can already do this, it remains a challenging task for computer programs. There is a long and varied history of humans building artificial gamers, from the Mechanical Turk back in the 1770s to modern chess-playing computers like Deep Blue that have beaten the human world chess champions. Artificial intelligence work has long focused on computer programs that play specific games, and such programs can handily defeat human opponents on games ranging from Connect Four to Chess. Yet, such programs are helpless when presented with games they have not seen before.

Computer programs designed to play specific games traditionally have the rules of the game hard-coded in, along with heuristics that allow the programs to evaluate whether a particular state of the game is good or not. Such programs look at where the game might go, and choose their moves so as to eventually reach states with high heuristic values. This constant search for high-value states will lead the programs to continually improve their position, and, if everything goes according to plan, ultimately win the game.

While these programs play their games effectively, one might question whether they are really intelligent. The real work involved in understanding the game and its strategy has already been done even before the program begins running: the gamers are merely following strategies and heuristics that their original programmers devised. This demonstrates that the original programmers understand the game, but it doesn't demonstrate that the programs themselves really understand the game in a meaningful way.

General game playing requires building computer programs which can play any arbitrary game. These programs are written without knowing the games they are playing in advance, and so they have to be able to play any game that they are presented with. Chess programs can only play chess; checkers programs can only play checkers; but a general game playing program can play any game.

Want more details?

Learn more by reading the Wikipedia article or by exploring the Stanford class page or the TU Dresden reference site. For an even more comprehensive treatment, check out General Game Playing, by Michael Genesereth and Michael Thielscher.