The first thing that popped into my head as I sat watching the denouement of War Games was "Why is it taking so long for WOPR to exhaust all of those tic-tac-toe combinations?" I mean, there are only 362,880 (9 factorial) different games that could be played, and that counts all the games that are just the reflection or rotation of another game. Those games that actually end up in a draw, due to best play from both sides, are going to number quite a bit fewer than that. Even in 1983 I would have thought a PC could have done it in about the same onscreen time it took the big supercomputer (that surely must have had some parallel components). I don't mean to diss a classic film, like War Games. I liked it when it came out and still like it.
Another machine that played tic-tac-toe was built out of Tinker Toys by MIT students. I actually saw this machine when I was in Boston in 1991. There is a question about whether or not this machine qualifies as a computer. You can't balance your checkbook on it, but it was programmed to play tic-tac-toe well. And, the techniques used could conceivably be expanded and reprogrammed for some other game.
What got me started thinking about computers that are programmed to play tic-tac-toe was an article that discussed MAYA II. This is a system that uses DNA strands as the computational medium. I'm sure that this new version is blazingly fast compared to the 2003 version of MAYA. Each move takes from 2-30 minutes to complete.
Why am I writing about computers that play a simple children's game (besides using some wicked cool technology)? DNA computation was first shown to be possible in 1994 when Leonard M. Adelman solved a five city Traveling Salesman Problem using only molecular biology techniques. Predictions of being able to crack DES cryptographic systems soon followed. If more complex computations are able to be done in a much smaller amount of time, DNA or molecular computers may be the generation after next's basic building block of parallel processors and systems. After that it will be quantum computing.
I don't think that any of us will be actively working long enough to see the practical application of DNA or quantum mechanics in large scale systems and applications. Still, it's fun to speculate and try to think up algorithms that fit into the unique physical constraints of these systems as well as how to program those algorithms into the machines that operate on something other than electircal impulses that represent 1's and 0's.
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