34 points by fho a year ago
Stand up maths did an episode on a similar "machine" called MENACE (Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine) that learns to play tick tac toe.
The video description has additional links to resources:
This article is mostly about MENACE.
It's mostly about HER, but does have a blurb about MENACE at the beginning
I made one of these in 1985 on my parents dining table. I had no idea Martin Gardners books were laying the ground for a maths science career. Those books (picked up at random from the public library) were the Numberphile (etc) videos of the 80s - particularly for kids whose family had no science background.
Gardner, chapter 8?
I've built one in my childhood.
Fortunately, most of Gardner's books were translated to my language and my father bought all of them.
I've re-read these books maybe 10 times each.
What was your language? I read two of his books when I was a kid in Russian. Also built the matchbox machine but I think it was playing hexapawn which was too simplistic compared to tic tac toe and a bit disappointing. I couldn't find enough beads and had to use cut matches and pieces of paper as well. And it was quite a story to convince adults to buy me so many matchboxes, I think it was 21. I think this machine and Conway's Life also explained in that book have transformed me.
Russian, yes. It is miracle, that these USA books were translated in USSR, IMHO.
All these brain-teasers, and, yes, of course, Game of Life!
I didn't have any beads, but I had about 1m of 100 pairs telco cable, so I've used small pieces of wire in colored insulation as beads :-)
I could write the same comment - except that I did not really build the machine (also, I am Italian)...
I remember reading about Matchbox Game-Learning Machines in a book in my school library in the late 1960s. It was partly responsible for getting me interested in computers.
Similar, but for me it was Saberhagen, Without a Thought (1963).
(worth a reread now that the Newts of today are seeking to harness LLMs ... but do we have a Del?)
This is the one ..
Saberhagen knew of Donald Michie's  MENACE  .. and this linked article tells of matchbox driven noughts and crosses engines and other variations for similarly simple games.
This was recently broadcast with discussion on the UK panel show QI (Quite Interesting) which may point to why this has hit the HN zeitgeist.
Making an equivalent of this was one of my first ever projects when I started learning programming. I'd read about it recently and was amazed when it actually started beating me every time.
Seems like this is what Matt Parker built together with some other people a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9c-_neaxeU&ab_channel=Stand.... It's incredibly inefficient compared to running it on a computer, but an amazing way to teach kids about this.
There's a version of MENACE online that you can train from scratch:
Around the 50th game it starts drawing pretty consistently.
Don't forget Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas Ryan too. Matchboxes to bootstrap a full AI.
Yes - I keep a copy of the Martin Gardner Scientific American article (which this link appears to be a re-print of) inside my copy of The Adolescence of P-1.
Really interesting! I wonder if there's an implementation someone's done on the web for this.
I'm pretty sure this first appeared in Gardner's "Mathematical Games" column in the March 1962 issue of Scientific American. Gardner later collected some of his columns and published them in books, which is what you see in this HN submission.
Possible, the file is tagged 1991. Could be a scan from a 1991 revision of the 1961 book?
While 1991 does seem too recent for the text, 1961 is not possible given it makes several references to later years, up to 1965/1968.
I am curious if this article has been scanned by a machine that attempts to use OCR to improve quality - at the expense of occasional mistakes. "dress" in place of "chess" looks close in font appearance, but far to mistype on a keyboard.
Are you referring to "(so goes an old joke in modern dress)"? I'm pretty certain that is intentional. It's an old joke that has dressed up modern.