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One computer teaches another how to play Ms. Pac-Man

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Researchers at Washington State University have programmed one computer to teach another how to play Ms. Pac-Man.

Getting a high score, or any score, in Ms. Pac-Man or any other video game isn't the goal of the project, just a means to the end of teaching computers, and ultimately robots, how to teach themselves. Right now, robots are "very dumb," said WSU's Matthew E. Taylor, a professor of artificial intelligence. The most advanced ones are easily confused, and when that happens, they stop working.

The reasoning is that, as robots become more common, it will be easier if they are capable of learning how to perform tasks from other robots. We don't want this information to be lost," Taylor says. "Once your home robot knows how you like your bath, how you like your house cleaned, you don't want to lose that information."

Why not just take one robot's memory and pass it along to another, though? It's not always so simple, Taylor said. Some later models may have different hardware and software from the one whose memory it would inherit.

The real trick is knowing how much teaching the computer should offer. Just like human teaching, little or no advice is not teaching, and too much doesn't really cause the robot to learn something for itself.