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Computer beats human pro at Japanese chess

The Ponanza program is one of five taking on human masters in the game of shogi. Is this the endgame for our "superior" brains?

Shogi is played with 40 pieces on a 9x9 board.
Oliver Orschiedt/Wikimedia Commons

Humanity lost a little more ground to machines last weekend, in case you're counting down the days to when Skynet takes charge of the planet.

A computer defeated a professional Japanese chess (shogi) player for the first time in a public match, Kyodo News tells us grimly.

A program called Ponanza, developed by Issei Yamamoto, took down 30-year-old Shinichi Sato on Saturday in the Shogi Master Versus Machine Match.

Sato was doing well until he made mistakes midway through the game.

While retired master Kunio Yonenaga had been defeated by a program called Bonkras that was developed by a programmer at Fujitsu Labs, the weekend bout was the first loss to a machine by an active pro.

Ponanza is one of five programs that won top spots in last year's World Computer Shogi Championship. The programs have been competing against five human pros in a series that continues on April 6.

Shogi is played on an unmarked 9x9 board with two sides of 20 pieces each including kings, rooks, bishops, and generals.

Since captured pieces can be used by the opposing side, shogi presents a higher degree of complexity than many other strategy games and has been of interest to artificial intelligence researchers.

Humanity's last refuge of superiority is the ancient Chinese game of Go, said to be the most complex in the world due to its large board, many pieces, and many possible scenarios.

However, programs such as Crazy Stone have been getting better and better against human pros.

Is the writing on the wall for us?