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Research Offers a New Look at Go Players’ Brains

Thursday February 6, 2014

A research collaboration in Seoul has revealed new information about the cognitive requirements of playing go and the effects that it may have on the brain. A team compared a group of expert go players with a group of beginners and published the results in the journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience”. The work revealed several differences between the brains of the beginner and the expert. The experts had increased volume in certain areas of the brain, decreased volume in others, greater interconnectivity between certain regions and differences in the overall brain structure. A correlation between the magnitude of the effect and the number of years of go training suggests that these differences are not simply the result of a predisposition of these people to continue playing go. Rather, the difference in brain structure can be explained by the the fact that the brain rewires itself to meet new skill requirements. This phenomenon, known as neuroplasticity, has been observed before in chess players. The areas of the brain in which the experts outmatched the novices are associated with visuospatial processing and emotional regulation in decision making, among others. This suggests that these skills are important in go. Thus, it appears that long-term go training can enhance these and other skills and can indeed be used as a tool for brain development. The complete article is available here. The literature search section links to many other fascinating studies as well. There are several related articles. Click here for one that discusses similar specific physical changes in the brain and reaches similar conclusions. The EJ covered this article at length in 2010 here.
- Ben Gale, Korean Correspondent for the E-Journal
Categories: World
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Go One of “5 Things Your Brain Does Better Than A Computer”

Sunday August 26, 2012

Go is the first example of “5 things your brain does better than a computer,” a recent post on the Mother Nature Network blog. “There are still a few activities that are too complex for a computer to bash its binary way through,” writes Shea Gunther. “In those realms, humans still reign. But don’t get too comfortable; computers are getting faster and smarter by the year.” Gunther notes that “There are more than 10 times more scenarios in Go than there are atoms in the observable universe. Computers are good at handling big numbers, but that’s just ridiculous. What’s more likely is that humans will get better at designing computer programs that more closely replicate the human brain and its thought processes. But when that happens and the machines take over, I don’t think we’ll be all that concerned about losing a game of Go to a computer.” By the way, the other four things your brain does better than a computer? Solve crossword puzzles, play Starcraft, create art, and write. Thanks to Richard Moseson for passing this article along.
- photo by Marcus Yeagley

 

Categories: World
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NEW STUDY FINDS PLAYING GO MAKES BRAINS GROW

Monday September 6, 2010

Serious study of go causes actual physical changes in the brain. That’s the stunning finding of a Korean group of neuroscientists who studied the difference between “long-term trained players” and“inexperienced controls.”  In their paper, which appears in the August 2010 issue of Neuroimage, Lee et al. report that they found “larger regions of white matter . . . that are related to attentional control, working memory, executive regulation, and problem-solving.” Their findings also suggest that “experts tend to develop a task-specific template for the game, as compared to controls . . . [and] were less likely than were controls to use structures related to load-dependent memory capacity.” In other words, experts don’t think harder, look at more variations or read farther than the rest of us; they use “spatial processes” – pattern recognition – to see better moves than the rest of us immediately. The researchers used a special type of fMRI –voxel-based diffusion-tensor imaging — to compile their data. This is a fairly well-established method: last year British researchers used the same process to show that “motor learning” – in this case, juggling – produced similar changes. The findings that strong players use something like “intuition” to see better moves tends to confirm previous research such as Chase and Simon’s classic 1973 study, where it was discovered that master chess players see more meaningful “chunks” when briefly glancing at a position than “woodpushers.” “Chunk theory” is now a widely accepted way of understanding how trained brains work. Reitman’s 1976 paper furthered our understanding of expert processes by studying an “expert” go player (Jim Kerwin, who went on to become the first Western pro) and then-beginner Bruce Wilcox (later the author of NEMESIS, the first computer go program) and confirming the basic tenets of “chunk theory.” Other research has examined whether go playing brains may have different — and hopefully more desirable — general qualities than non-playing brains.  The Deoksoo Study is one of several suggesting that serious go students may acquire more sophisticated cognitive abilities in other areas. In 2003, Chen et al. showed that go players use many different areas of the brain; similar chess studies have shown more localized activation. Lee et al.’s study takes our understanding one giant step further – high-level cognitive training has a physical impact on the brain, just as hitting the gym does for the body. This finding has enormous implications for the eternal “nature-nurture” debate. The current conventional wisdom is, “We are what we’re born with,” not “We are shaped by our experiences.” The brain’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions and perform the other work that makes us human is seen largely as biological, inborn, brain-based. “Big pharm” ads tell us over and over that the way to fix our depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ED, etc. is to tweak our brain chemistry with a pill.  Teachers and parents often label struggling students, then begin the quest for the perfect pill that will fix the ADHD, bipolar disorder or whatever. But what if the pills don’t work? If it’s an inborn biological problem, what’s the solution? Fortunately, we now know that certain kinds of experience can actually improve the physical brain.  As the authors say, “long-term Baduk training appears to cause structural brain changes associated with . . . higher-order cognitive capacities, such as learning, abstract reasoning, and self-control, which can facilitate education and cognitive therapies.” Other questions now arise. Are some activities more growth-promoting than others? Probably. Does the brain change more in players who begin at a younger age? Does the increased white matter in go players’ brains just help them to play well, or is the increased “throughput” capacity useful in other areas as well?  One would think so, but there’s no evidence – yet.  To learn more, check out “Go and Cognition” by Peter Shotwell, in the Bob High Memorial Library.
– by Roy Laird; additional reporting by Hajin Lee 3P

Categories: World
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US Go Congress Player Profiles: Chen, Liang, Lee & Chiu

Monday August 4, 2014

The American Go E-Journal will be broadcasting top-board US Go Congress games live on KGS beginning this Sunday, August 10. This week we’re profiling some of the top players who will be competing at the Congress.

Michael Chen 7D (top right) is a 25-year-old financial analyst from Princeton, NJ who’s been playing go since he was 7 years old. Titles include the 2006 North America Ing Cup, 2009 Canadian Open, and he took second place in both the 2009 and 2011 US Opens. His favorite thing about go is “winning” and hobbies include soccer and Starcraft.

Jie Liang 7D (top left) is a 42-year-old software engineer from Nashua, NH who’s been playing go for 29 years. His favorite thing about go is that it’s a “brain game” and he loves its competiveness. Married, with one child, Liang’s hobbies include photography and deep sea fishing.

Joshua Lee 5D (bottom right) is a 27-year-old IT consultant from Arlington, VA who’s been playing just 7 years. His favorite thing about go is the game’s “infinite strategy” and that “there are world-class players with entirely different styles from one another.” Lee enjoys scuba diving, Texas Holdem, tennis and playing the guitar.

Jeremy Chiu 6D (bottom left) is a 12-year-old student who’s been playing since he was 5. “I like the complexity of the game and how it allows you to play the game however you want,” he says. He won the United States Youth Go Championship junior division in 2013 and was the Under-12 US representative to the World Youth Go Championship in 2013. Hailing from San Jose, CA, Chiu’s hobbies include playing music and video games.

2014 WAGC Player Profiles: Americas & Oceania

Sunday June 29, 2014

Last of a series of profiles of players in the 35th World Amateur Go Championships, which will be held July 4-11 in Gyeongju, Korea. Fifty-seven players from a like number of countries and territories are scheduled to make the trip to Korea to compete in the four-day, eight-round Swiss system. Many will be veterans of previous tournaments held in Japan and China, some drawn back to WAGC competition after a long absence, perhaps by the chance to be part of the first WAGC held in Korea. As usual, the largest contingent will come from Europe (30 players) and the youngest from the Far East (15 players, including an 11-year-old fromIndonesia). Click here for Ranka’s June 24 WAGC preview.

Americas
Argentina: Haroldo Brown 3k (right) is a 54-year-old development consultant from Buenos Aires. Career accomplishments Include “17 years of working with an outstanding humanitarian organisation (Oxfam) and at least 15 years in the theatre world.” His favorite thing about go is “The different paths one goes down in each game and, of course, the chance to meet people from many walks of life.” Hobbies include screenwriting. He’s not married, but says he “’adopted’ three daughters while I lived in Nicaragua.” He adds that “Go keeps my mind thinking strategically and this includes analysing with an open mind the different alternatives paths I can take in the face of whatever challenges come my way… And this has proved most useful in my development work as well as in the screenwriting world.”

Canada: Yongfei Ge 7D is a 45-year-old software architect from Scarborough. He’s been playing for 30 years, winning the Canada Open Championship in 2007, and the US Open Championship in 2001, 2007 and 2011. His favorite thing about go is to “Win after hard fight.” Hobbies include PC games, novels and running. Career highlights include the Horizontal Award, “signed by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.” He’s married, with one daughter.

Costa Rica: Enrique Boza Araya 7k is a 52-year-old systems engineer in San Jose. He’s been playing go for 11 years and says his favorite thing about the game is “The depth of the game despite its simple rules.” His hobbies include strategy games – he’s a 5-time champion at the Banco Central de Costa Rica’s annual tournament — writing fantasy stories, and movies.

Mexico: Ricardo Quintero Zazueta 5D is a 63-year-old mathematician and full time researcher at Cinvestav  in México City. He’s been playing go for more than 40 years and has been Mexican champion eight times. His favorite thing about go is “Making lasting friendships through go and the depth of the game itself.” His hobbies include Kendo. He’s married, with three children.

United States: Jie Liang 7D is a 43-year-old software engineer from Nashua, New Hampshire. Working with the same company for over 16 years, he says “I am doing well in the work so I have spare time to play go.” He’s been playing for 30 years, won 4th place in the 2010 KPMC and says his favorite things about go are “comfortable, brain game, concentration, competitive, friendship.” Hobbies include photography and fishing. He’s married, with “one 2-year old lovely boy, full of energy who likes placing stones on board in some patterns.” He adds that “I can still find great interest in playing go. Also I try to improve my games through online resources. There are some strong young players and Europeans are getting better too. I hope I will have better luck this time in the WAGC.”
Missing: Brazil (probably too busy with the World Cup!).

Oceania
Australia: Sang-Dae Hahn 7D is a retired professor who just turned 73 and lives in Sydney. He’s been playing go for 48 years, and is a 12-time Australian Champion (1978~1993) and won the 2012 Korean Ambassador’s Cup. His favorite thing about go is “creating my own aesthetic world” and his hobbies include “singing, traveling, and people.” Career highlights include teaching at Yon-sei Uni, Sydney Uni, Myongji Uni and 10 times Singing Recital. He’s married, with one child.
Missing: New Zealand

Africa: missing Madagascar & South Africa

Wired Magazine on “The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win”

Tuesday May 13, 2014

“Rémi Coulom is sitting in a rolling desk chair, hunched over a battered Macbook laptop, hoping it will do something no machine has ever done.” So begins Alan Levinovitz’s thorough report on the current state of computer go in Wired Magazine – The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win – published May 12. Levinovitz covered this year’s UEC Cup, the computer Go tournament held each March that rewards two finalists with matches against a “Go sage” in the Densei-sen, or machine-versus-man matches. The Wired report covers the history of computer go, name-checking Einstein, Turing and Nash, includes an excellent explanation of the game’s branching problem and explains how the development of Monte Carlo Tree Search enabled the latest breakthroughs in computer go, in which Coulom’s Crazy Stone program won the first Densei-sen last year against Japanese professional Yoshio “The Computer” Ishida. American-born pro Michael Redmond — a regular EJ contributor — makes an appearance in the report as the commentator at the UEC Cup. Levinovitz does a good job demystifying computer go, as well, writing that the view that go is “the final bastion of human dominance over computers” is “deeply misguided.” Levinovitz points out that “computers can’t ‘win’ at anything, not until they can experience real joy in victory and sadness in defeat, a programming challenge that makes Go look like tic-tac-toe. Computer Go matches aren’t the brain’s last stand. Rather, they help show just how far machines have to go before achieving something akin to true human intelligence.”
photo: Remi Coulom (left) and his computer program, Crazy Stone, take on grandmaster Norimoto Yoda. Photo: Takashi Osato/WIRED. Thanks to the many EJ readers who quickly spotted this report and passed it along. 

Categories: Go Spotting,Japan,World
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Physics Central Podcast on “Beating the Game of Go”

Friday May 2, 2014

“Beating the Game of Go” is the title of a recent Physics Central Podcast. “Researchers in France want to model the game as a complex network. Other examples of complex networks include airplane flight plans, social networks, neurons in the brain, and fungal communities, to name a few. By modeling Go as a complex network, the researchers hope to find patterns and symmetries that could assist scientists who are working on Go-playing programs, that they hope will some day beat the best human Go players (something that already been accomplished in Chess).” The report also has a number of interesting and useful go links.

Categories: Go Spotting
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Dumb Cluck? 9×9 Go Reportedly Solved

Tuesday April 1, 2014

A team of researchers at the University of Brightloch have announced that 9×9 go has been solved. Inspired by recent improvements in computer play by Montecarlo algorithms, they hypothesized that “If a computer can play at random andplay good games, what prevents a more powerful device (like a brain) to do something similar?”

So the researchers picked a team of 100,000 chickens and taught them to play go. “It was hard in the beginning, but once a few knew how to play they started teaching others,” they report. “After a couple months all were playing as 30k players and we set them loose in a field filled with 9×9 go boards and bowls with stones. Also some grain and water.”

A month later the chickens were gone, and the same position was repeated on every 9×9 board: perfect play, with white winning by 0.5 points with 7.5 komi. The chickens had also left a note. It said “So long, and thanks for all the grain.”
- based on a report on Nordic Go Academy by RBERENGUEL; thanks to Go Game Guru, which posted it on their Facebook page

Categories: World
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Go Spotting: Top Mind-Bending Games

Sunday February 16, 2014

Go makes the top slot in Top 10 Mind-bending Strategy Games on the How Stuff Works website. “It’s perhaps no coincidence that the most mind-bending of all strategy games is also the oldest,” writes John Kelly. Kelly also reports that “Japanese neurosurgeon Kaneko Mitsuo has studied the effect that playing Go has on older adults, noting that “Randomized trials by the U.S. National Institutes of Health have shown that playing certain types of games — though not a mental health cure — can keep the brain healthy.”
Thanks to Aaron Murg of Bethesda, MD for passing this along! A 15-kyu AGA member, Aaron says “I enjoy waking up each morning to find an E-Journal waiting to be read.”

Categories: Go Spotting
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The Go Quiz Returns!

Saturday February 8, 2014

by Keith Arnold, HKA
I am delighted to have been asked to return as AGA Quizmaster and look forward to bringing you a whole new batch of weekly brain-teasers that will test your knowledge of the go world and its fascinating history. I will be ably assisted by quiz veteran Phil Waldron 6 dan and Daniel Chou 6 dan; if you notice clever questions of a new style, they will deserve the credit, while all errors (and unfortunate puns) will remain my responsibility.  Please remember to submit your answers on or before Thursday each week. Let the games begin!

Since we’re in a self-referential mood, let’s make our first effort close to home: How many books are in Keith Arnold’s go library?  For the purpose of this question, all languages are allowed, including duplicates as long as they are materially different (translations, revised editions with different covers) as opposed to the deranged “doubles” of an obsessed collector.  Our E-Journal editor – who interviewed me at my home some years ago — will be as surprised as I am that the number of go books finally exceeds my voluminous collection of books regarding the War Between the States. Is the number 600-700, 700-800, 800-900 or more than 900?  Click here to make your guess and, as always, feel free to include your comments, rude or otherwise, as we do award extra points for clever responses. photo: Arnold at the 2012 US Go Congress; photo by Phil Straus

Categories: Go Quiz
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