How games can help us to understand how people make decisions and support policy development that takes better account of field realities

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/12/2018 - 10:00pm in



Games are increasingly used in research and development projects, often bringing elements of play into real life in order to deliver insights into decision-making processes. Claude Garcia describes how real life can be taken into the world of games, facilitating players to take better decisions by themselves, and how doing so can support policy development, helping to draft policy that […]

AI turns the corner?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/12/2018 - 1:33am in

Is the latest version of AlphaZero showing signs of human style intuition and creativity?

The current AlphaZero is a more generalised version of the program, produced by Demis Hassabis and his team, that beat top human players of Go for the first time. The new version, presented briefly in Science magazine, is able to learn a range of different games; besides Go it learned chess and shogi, and apparently reached world-class play in all of them.

The Science article, by David Silver et al, modestly says this achievement is an important step towards a fully-general game-playing program, but press reports went further, claiming that in chess particularly AlphaZero showed more human traits than any previous system. It reinvented human strategies and sacrificed pieces for advantage fairly readily, the way human players do; chess commentators said that its play seemed to have new qualities of insight and intuition.

This is somewhat unexpected, because so far as I can tell the latest version is in fact not a radical change from its predecessors; in essence it uses the same clever combination of appropriate algorithms with a deep neural network, simply applying them more generally. It does appear that the approach has proved more widely powerful than we might have expected, but it is no more human in nature than the earlier versions and does not embody any new features copied from real brains. It learns its games from scratch, with only the rules to go on, playing out games against itself repeatedly in order to find what works. This is not much like the way humans learn chess; I think you would probably die of boredom after a few hundred games, and even if you survived, without some instruction and guidance you would probably never learn to be a good player, let alone a superlative one. However, running through possible games in one’s mind may be quite like what a good human player does when trying to devise new strategies.

The key point for me is that although the new program is far more general in application, it still only operates in the well-defined and simple worlds provided by rule-governed games. To be anything like human, it needs to display the ability to deal with the heterogenous and undefinable world of real life. That is still far distant (Hassabis himself has displayed an awareness of the scale of the problem, warning against releasing self-driving cars on to real roads prematurely), though I don’t altogether rule out the possibility that we are now moving perceptibly in the right direction.

Someone who might deny that is Gary Marcus, who in a recent Nautilus piece set out his view that deep learning is simply not enough. It needs, he says, to be supplemented by other tools, and in particular it needs symbol manipulation.

To me this is confusing, because I naturally interpret ‘symbol manipulation’ as pretty much a synonym for Turing style computation. That’s the bedrock of any conventional computer, so it seems odd to say we need to add it. I suppose Marcus is using the word ‘symbol’ in a different sense. The ones and zeroes shuffled around by a Turing machine are meaningless to the machine. We assign a meaning to the input and so devise the manipulations that the output can be given an interpretation which makes it useful or interesting to us, but the machine itself knows nothing of that. Marcus perhaps means that we need a new generation of machines that can handle symbols according to their meanings.

If that’s it, then few would disagree that that is one of the ultimate aims. Those who espouse deep learning techniques merely think that those methods may in due course lead to a machine that handles meanings in the true sense; at some stage the system will come up with the unknown general strategy that enables it to get meaningful and use symbols the way a human would. Marcus presumably thinks that is hopeless optimism, on the scale of those people who think any system that is sufficiently complex will naturally attain self-awareness.

Since we don’t have much of an idea how the miracle of meaning might happen might it is indeed optimistic to think we’re on the road towards it. How can a machine bootstrap itself into true ‘symbol manipulation’ without some kind of help? But we know that the human brain must have done just that at some stage in evolution – and indeed each of our brains seem to have done it again during our development. It has got to be possible. Optimistic yes, hopeless – maybe not.

Cybermen Launch Escape Game

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/12/2018 - 9:39am in



To the surprise of many shoppers, Cybermen were spotted in two major cities in the UK today, to mark tickets going on sale for Worlds Collide, the first official Doctor Who live escape game.

One of the Time Lord’s oldest enemies, which feature in the new game, commandeered a barge on the canal at Gas Street Basin in Birmingham. Next, they were seen threatening to ‘upgrade’ unsuspecting Christmas shoppers outside the iconic Birmingham Bullring shopping centre, before travelling up through the UK, heading straight for Leeds City Centre, frightening local commuters in the process.

Fans have been eagerly awaiting details of the BBC Studios and Escape Hunt Doctor Who-themed live escape game, which will be playable at Escape Hunt venues across the country from early 2019.

Teams of up to six become the Doctor’s new friends and are transported into the future, to the offices of ChronosCorp HQ, where eccentric billionaire Alastair Montague’s efforts to develop commercial time travel have caused a tear in the fabric of space and time, a tear which the Cyberman will use to attack Earth!

The players are then given 60 minutes to work out how to close the tear before the Cybermen break through, using only what remains of Montague, his prototype time engine and the extensive collection of time-related artefacts acquired over the course of his experiments. The fate of the universe rests in their hands – if they take too long the human race will be ‘upgraded’.

From today, fans can book tickets for the immersive adventure, which will be arriving at Escape Hunt locations on the following dates:

  • Bristol – 16/01/2019
  • Leeds – 25/01/2019
  • Oxford – 08/02/2019
  • Manchester – 22/02/2019
  • Reading – 08/03/2019
  • Birmingham – 22/03/2019

Richard Harpham, CEO Escape Hunt plc, saysWe are thrilled that tickets are now on sale and fans can start booking to be the first to play the game in January. We are extremely proud of Worlds Collide and look forward to giving fans a unique Doctor Who escape game experience. Mat Way, Global Director, Live Entertainment at BBC Studios, saysWe’re very excited to be revealing details of the very first official Doctor Who escape game in collaboration with Escape Hunt. We used to hide behind the sofa when the Cybermen appeared on TV, it’s amazing that fans will soon be able to encounter them face to face. Tickets for Doctor Who: The Live Escape Game, Worlds Collide are now on sale and are bookable via

 Cybermen in Birmingham

Doctor Who News

Worlds Collide - Ticket date Announced

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/12/2018 - 6:20am in



Escape HuntBBC Studios and Escape Hunt have announced the on-sale date of tickets for the upcoming Doctor Who live escape game, Worlds Collide.

From 6th December, fans can buy tickets to be one of the first to try out the hotly-anticipated game which will be arriving in cities across the UK at Escape Hunt locations from early 2019.

Escape Hunt is a global provider of live ‘escape the room’ experiences. Since opening in 2013, Escape Hunt has expanded rapidly, opening nearly 50 locations across 27 countries around the world. Escape Hunting involves 60 minutes of excitement, during which groups of teammates lose themselves in immersive experiences, created by the Escape Hunt Studios team. Groups must work together to follow a series of clever clues and escape a locked room before their time is up.

The Doctor Who game, Worlds Collide will be opening in Escape Hunt locations in early 2019:

  • Bristol – ‪16/01/2019‬
  • Leeds – ‪25/01/2019‬
  • Oxford – ‪08/02/2019‬
  • Manchester – ‪22/02/2019‬
  • Reading – ‪08/03/2019‬
  • Birmingham – ‪22/03/2019‬

Richard Harpham, CEO Escape Hunt PLC, saysIt’s the day that the Doctor Who community have been counting down to and we’re incredibly excited to be one step closer to the opening of Worlds Collide. We’re incredibly proud of the game and can’t wait to welcome fans in to try and crack it! Doctor Who – Worlds Collide will be on-sale from Thursday, 6th December at midday Please visit the website for more information.

Doctor Who News

The Difference Between Compulsiveness and Happiness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/11/2018 - 10:07pm in

One of the most striking bits of research lately has been that every study I am aware of of social media finds a correlation between unhappiness and social media use. The more social media people use, the less happy they are. It’s really extraordinary.

I’ve been thinking about this recently. While ill recently I played some Civilization VI (the worst version  of Civilization in its history.)

I found it compulsive. I’d be sitting there, not enjoying myself, yet found myself playing “just one more turn.”

Social media feels much the same. You tweet or put up a Facebook post or comment, or an Instagram picture, or whatever, and then you wait to see if people respond. The responses are intermittent: you can’t entirely predict them, so it’s very strong reinforcement.

The feeling of posting on social media is compulsive. Like one has to check to see if there are responses: like on has to post something new.

It’s not a happy feeling, usually. Instead it feels like addictive behaviour. Perhaps mildly addictive in some case, perhaps seriously in others.

I find happiness, right now, for me, happens most often while listening to music. It isn’t compulsive at all. I enjoy it, I stop when I have something else to do. It’s relaxed.

Dopamine hits aren’t particularly enjoyable. They’re just demanding: compulsive. “Do more of this.”

Happiness is something else. Not compulsive. Optional.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

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Doctor Who - Live Escape Game - Worlds Collide

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/10/2018 - 8:29am in


Doctor Who, Games

 Escape Hunt / BBC Studios)BBC Studios and Escape Hunt have today revealed the official name of the forthcoming Doctor Who – The Live Escape Game, will be called Worlds Collide.

To celebrate the news, visitors to London’s Comic-Con, being held this weekend, will be able to test themselves against the clock with a world first taster experience of the new game on the official BBC Studios stand at ExCeL London. The ‘Worlds Collide Escape Cube’ is designed as a fun prequel to the escape room game launching later this year.

Fans can also enter an Escape Hunt competition to become one of the first in the UK to experience the full game at their nearest venue with up to five friends. To enter, fans must simply like a picture of the ‘Worlds Collide Escape Cube’ taster experience at Comic-Con on Escape Hunt UK’s Facebook page (T&Cs apply).

Richard Harpham, CEO Escape Hunt PLC, saysAt Escape Hunt, we’re incredibly excited to be working with BBC Studios to create Doctor Who – The Live Escape Game. Comic Con is one of the biggest events in the Doctor Who calendar and with the series having such a dedicated fan base from all over the UK, being able to give these fans the first taster experience of Worlds Collide is a huge opportunity. We just hope they have as much fun trying to crack it as we’ve had creating it. Doctor Who – The Live Escape Game will open in Escape Hunt venues around the country from early 2019. To register for news about tickets visit

To enter the prize draw for the chance to win a free game in the Worlds Collide room, participants must simply like a picture of the ‘Worlds Collide Escape Cube’ at Comic-Con on the Escape Hunt UK Facebook page between the 26th October and 5th November. The winner will be notified on the 6th November. Full T&Cs here.

Doctor Who News


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 29/09/2018 - 3:39am in


brexit, eu, Games, Politics, UK

With only six months left to the moment when the UK leaves the EU, the Brexit end game is upon us. If there is to be a Withdrawal Agreement at all, the Northern Ireland border problem must be solved within the next couple of weeks. But at present, both sides are well dug in and showing no inclination to budge. No-deal Brexit is looking increasingly likely.

Nonetheless, the game is still afoot. In Salzburg, the EU appeared to strike a mortal blow to Theresa May's Chequers proposal. After this, surely she had to compromise on her red lines?

Not a bit of it. Mrs. May is sticking to her Chequers proposal, apparently hoping that eventually the EU will blink. She remains, as ever, oblivious to the mortal damage that this would do to the EU as a political project.

But agreeing a deal with the EU is not Mrs. May's top priority anyway. With the Tory party conference approaching, continual rumours of a leadership challenge, and Boris trying to make himself look like Churchill-in-waiting, she is only really interested in disciplining the hardline Brexiteeers in her party, particularly the unruly ERG.

Sometimes I wonder if Theresa hexes her opponents. They certainly seem extraordinarily accident-prone. She came to power by saying nothing and waiting for the other leadership candidates to trip themselves up, which they duly did, one after another. And now she seems to be pulling the same trick again.

Right on cue, the ERG has shot itself in the foot, not once but three times. Recently, it released two alternative Brexit trade deal models. The first was curiously (and all but illegibly) written in faded blue 10-pitch Courier as if it were produced on an old typewriter with a worn-out ribbon. The second was written in tortuous econospeak which unfortunately failed to conceal some pretty basic errors.  Both papers were promptly and hilariously skewered. Trade wonks had a field day, of course, but it didn't require specialist knowledge to see what an Eton mess the ERG had managed to make of its proposals. It was downright embarrassing.

To make matters worse, the ERG's "alternative proposal" for Brexit included recommendations to build a "Star Wars" space defence system and send an expeditionary force to the Falkland Islands. The ERG was shamefacedly exposed as stuck in an early 1980s time warp: the Star Wars system was a Ronald Reagan scheme that was never built, and we all know that the Falklands War was Maggie's finest hour. A photo of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Bone looking utterly despondent went viral. Caption competitions abounded.

The ERG's brilliant idea for solving the Irish border problem was an equivalence regime which the EU has already dismissed as unworkable. It would therefore be impossible while Ireland remained in the EU. Suddenly, a new "Irish freedom party" popped up, promoting Irish exit from the EU. What remarkable timing.

Of course, even if Ireland left the EU, it would still be a separate country, and no trade between separate countries is ever completely free, except in a single market. On Twitter, one lunatic Brexiter, exhibiting a breathtaking ignorance of Irish history, suggested that the solution to the Irish border problem was for Ireland to rejoin the United Kingdom. This is of course a complete non-starter, but our Brexiter was blithely convinced that all that was needed was a sticking plaster on the 1916 Rebellion. Whatever they teach them on the playing fields of Eton, it obviously doesn't include Henry VIII, Cromwell, King Billy, the Battle of the Boyne or the Famine.

Theresa didn't have to say or do anything to overturn this pile of imperialist horseshit. She just stayed silent and let the press do it for her, helped by the DUP, which summarily rejected the IEA's Canada Plus trade proposal. Even the DUP knows that Ireland is not going to leave the EU, and without that, the IEA's scheme is dead.

Of course, the ERG continues to bluster. This week, Boris Johnson has written 5000 words in the Telegraph proposing yet another wholly unrealistic Brexit deal. And Jacob Rees-Mogg, appearing yet again on the BBC's flagship Question Time comment programme, has issued barely-concealed threats of leadership challenges. But the truth is that neither really wants to unseat Theresa at the moment. Their best strategy is to let her take the country through Brexit (of any kind, though the harder the better), then promote themselves as the new team that will lead Britain to the sunlit uplands. I suspect Theresa knows this perfectly well and is going along with it, because let's face it, she needs their support. It is not quite checkmate for her yet, but it is increasingly hard to see how she can stay on as Prime Minister after Brexit.

Neither Theresa and her allies nor the ERG group are remotely interested in what is best for the country. All they care about is who governs it. Brexit is really nothing to do with the EU. It is, as it always has been, a war between two wings of the Tory party over the right to govern the UK.

Now, those of you who look down your noses at the parochial Tory party and say "of course the Labour party wouldn't behave like that" - you couldn't be more wrong. The Labour leadership is playing exactly the same game.

Jeremy Corbyn says that Labour MPs will vote down whatever withdrawal agreement Mrs. May agrees with the EU. Ostensibly, this is because any deal that is acceptable to both the EU and the UK government would fail to pass Keir Starmer's "six tests". But as the six tests were carefully designed to ensure that no Tory deal could possibly pass them, this claim is not exactly honest. Labour's real objective is to force the Government to call a general election. They think that voting down the withdrawal agreement would amount to defeating the Government on a confidence motion. The government would have no choice but to resign.

The trouble is that by signalling it in advance, Labour has probably scuppered this Machiavellian scheme. Labour cannot by itself defeat the withdrawal agreement. It needs some Tories to vote against it as well. Leaving aside the unpalatable fact that this would mean Labour voting with hardline Brexiter Tories, the Tories might not defy the whip - especially if they knew that by doing so they would bring down the government. The only thing that can be guaranteed to unite the Tories is the prospect of a Labour government. If Johnson & Rees-Mogg thought that voting against the withdrawal agreement would result in a general election which Labour was likely to win, they would close ranks and back the withdrawal agreement, regardless of what they have previously said. Bringing down Theresa May's government before Brexit is not remotely in their interests.

Of course, the DUP might vote against a withdrawal agreement, if it didn't like the terms for Northern Ireland. But Theresa is wise to this, and so is the EU. Do you really think they would agree on a deal that they know the DUP would reject, when the only way Theresa can get it through Parliament is with DUP support?

But let's suppose for the moment that Labour does manage to garner enough votes to defeat the final withdrawal agreement. What happens next?

Voting down the final withdrawal agreement would leave no-deal Brexit as the only option. The Government would be obliged to inform Parliament what it intended to do next, and Parliament woudl have a vote on that - though it might not have the right to amend the Government's plans. The Government has suggested that it could simply inform Parliament that it would go ahead with no deal even if Parliament opposed it. But the Institute for Government thinks that the government would be under pressure to resign:

The Government would probably come under political pressure to resign, to subject itself to a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, or to move a motion for an early general election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. What happened next would depend not on the precise terms of the EU Withdrawal Act, but on the UK’s Brexit policy, as it then stood, and on how the EU27 responded to it.

There are only six months until Brexit, and as yet no withdrawal agreement has been agreed. If a withdrawal agreement were defeated, there would be no time for a general election before Brexit. So an extension to Article 50 would be needed. The European Council has indicated that it would be likely to grant such an extension for a general election.

However, because there is so little time left, the Government could decide to hold the general election after Brexit, thereby eliminating any need for an extension. If it did so, then there would be a disorderly no-deal Brexit followed by an economic crash. And because Labour would have voted against the withdrawal agreement, the Tories could reasonably claim that the economic crash was Labour's fault. They would be certain to campaign on this. "Labour's car crash Brexit has wrecked the economy," they would say.

There is another possibility, of course, and that is that instead of calling for a general election which the Tories could delay until after Brexit, Labour could call for a second referendum. This would also require an extension to Article 50, as there is no time to organise a second referendum before Brexit. Would the European Council be likely to agree to an extension for such a purpose?

It would depend what was on the ballot paper. If the referendum simply gave the British people a choice between a deal which Parliament had already rejected and no deal, it is hard to see why the EU would agree. It would be a completely pointless ballot which they would inevitably see as a delaying tactic, and they have already said they will not agree to extensions which merely delay the inevitable. There would have to be some other option open to the British people. What might that be?

The most obvious option would be Remain, which is the status quo. But Labour is every bit as divided over Brexit as the Tories. Offering Remain as an option would blow this wide open. There would be howls of "Betrayal!" from core working-class voters, particularly older men in Northern constituencies. Already, the leader of one of the biggest trade unions has warned that "the referendum result must be respected". Labour can't afford to alienate its traditional vote. Remain must be off the menu.

Alternatively, Labour might offer to negotiate a new deal, as John McDonnell has suggested. The problem is that Labour is not in power, so this would require a general election - which it is unlikely that Government would call before Brexit. And Labour doesn't have a coherent proposal to put to the EU anyway. It only has a Black Forest Gateau, and as I have already explained, cake and cherries are lethal for the EU. Furthermore, why would the EU want to renegotiate a deal that it has already agreed? Getting the agreement of the entire EU27 is not easy. Unless Labour's proposal is both entirely credible and significantly different from the one the Tories agreed, the EU might not want to renegotiate.

As far as I can see, voting down the withdrawal agreement leads inexorably to no-deal Brexit, simply because Labour can't make the Tories do what they want. But Labour would inevitably be blamed for that no-deal Brexit. What price the next election then?

Not that things would be any better if Labour MPs voted for the withdrawal agreement. "But how could we possibly vote for a Tory deal?" cry Labour activists. It is something of a mystery to me how Labour MPs could vote with the ERG group but apparently not with Theresa, but then what do I know about politics? The activists do have a point. Voting with the government on a deal which violated their own six tests would be electoral suicide. In the general election that is bound to follow Brexit, Labour MPs would be blamed for selling out to the Tories. The voting public doesn't like politicians who break their promises. Just look what happened to the Lib Dems.

So perhaps Theresa has hexed the Labour leadership, too. Their present stance is certainly a gift to her, because it makes it more likely that dissident Tory MPs would vote for her withdrawal agreement. As it stands, Labour cannot reinvent Brexit in their own image. They cannot offer the British people a real choice in a second referendum. They cannot force a general election before Brexit. And because they are so completely stuck, they look unlikely to win an election after Brexit. They seem to have boxed themselves into a corner. It is checkmate.

Related reading:

Cake and cherries
An alternative Brexit polemic
Game theory in Brexitland

Image from Wikipedia via Reddit.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Anti-Semitism and the Aristocracy

Last night I put up a piece debunking the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, based on the chapter about this vile book in Jon E. Lewis’ The Mammoth Book of Cover-Ups (London: Constable & Robinson 2007), pp. 433-50. The Protocols are a notorious anti-Semitic forgery, probably concocted by Matvei Golovinski of the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, to make his master, Nicholas II, even more anti-Semitic and to intensify the persecution of the Jews.

The Protocols purport to be the minutes of a secret meeting of a group of elite Jews, intent on destroying all non-Jewish religions and conquering and enslaving Christians and gentiles. They claimed that the Jews were at the centre of a massive conspiracy controlling the banks and were encouraging the downfall of Christian civilization by promoting liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism. At the same time they were distracting gentiles from uncovering this plot through using alcohol, gambling, games and other amusements.

There is absolutely no truth in any of this whatsoever. But the book became an immense success and was read and influenced many Fascists and anti-Semites. These included Adolf Hitler, who made the book a compulsory part of the German school syllabus.

Like much of Fascism, it’s a rejection of modernity – the mass society of modern politics that emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Modern politics and secular ideologies were attacked. At one point, the Protocols claim that Darwinism, Marxism and Nietzscheanism have been successful because they have been promoted by the conspiracy. (Lewis, Mammoth Book of Covers-Ups, p. 444). The forger’s own view of what constitutes the best society is revealed very clearly in another passage, in which the conspirators celebrate their destruction of the aristocracy.

The people, under our guidance, have annihilated the aristocracy, who were their one and only defence and foster-mother for the sake of their own advantage, which is inseparably bound up with the well-being of the people. Nowadays, with the destruction of the aristocracy, the people have fallen into the grips of merciless money-grinding scoundrels who have laid a pitiless and cruel yoke upon the necks of the workers. (p.446).

Historically, some of the persecution of the Jews in the later Middle Ages was due to the fact that a large number of the aristocracy had become seriously in debt to Jewish bankers, and tried to get out of their obligation to pay it back by urging for their persecution and expulsion.

A significant number of aristocrats and the upper middle class were supporters of Nazism before the Second World War. The leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, was a baronet. Aristocrats and landlords joined pro-Nazi and appeasement organisations like the Anglo-German Fellowship. Martin Pugh on his book on British Fascism between the Wars describes how the aristos welcomed members of the Nazi elite at dinner parties on their estates, when the swastika was discreetly flown from the flagpoles.

And there still seems to be a fascination and dangerous sympathy with Nazism even today. Way back in the 1990s and early part of this century, Private Eye published a number of stories about one Cotswold aristocrat, who had very strong anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigrant opinions.

And then there’s the Traditional Britain Group on the far right of the Tory party. These also have the same, genuinely Fascist attitudes, and one of their leaders is fascinated with the Nazis and the Third Reich. It was the Traditional Britain Group, who invited Jacob Rees-Mogg to their annual dinner, which Mogg accepted. When the Observer published the story, Mogg claimed that at the time he hadn’t known anything about them. If he had, he wouldn’t have gone. Which doesn’t really sound convincing, as people don’t normally accept dinner invitations from organisations and people they know nothing about. But perhaps Mogg, as well as being viciously right-wing, is also very naïve.

As for the Tories being good friends of the Jews, as the current head of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyle claimed in a speech, David Rosenberg posted up in response a series of incidents across the decades which put the lie to it. These showed very clearly how anti-Semitic the Tories had been, and which parts of it may very well still be.

And one of the attractions of anti-Semitism, apart from sheer racism, is that, in the form of conspiracy theories like the Protocols, they blame the Jews for all the forces of modernity that threaten the aristocracy and the upper middle class, and celebrate the aristocracy itself as the people’s saviours, and so appealing very strongly to certain types of Tories.