TD Gammon—the most amazing computer you've never heard of.

The only way to improve is to focus on what you're doing wrong. This simple concept turned an unassuming computer program into the most dominant backgammon player in history. The computer was called TD Gammon, and it changed the way we think about the world.

Gerald Tesauro created TD Gammon in 1992 to test his theories on artificial intelligence. The goal was to make TD Gammon the best backgammon player in the world. In the beginning, TD Gammon picked each move randomly. It wasn't programmed with good moves, or bad moves.

Unlike Deep Blue, the famous chess playing computer who predicted millions of moves in advance, it didn't rely on the brute force of predictive logic, it simply measured its rate of failure. In fact, TD Gammon could only search 3 moves in advance during it's 15 second turn. TD Gammon could only improve by practicing its craft. Each move it made was recorded and the outcome logged. If it lost a game, it focused on identifying the moves that caused it to lose. TD Gammon analyzed only its short comings, the errors that it made, and how to resolve them.

Over time, TD Gammon improved to an astounding degree. Within a few years it was the world's best backgammon player. Kit Woolsley, a previous backgammon champion, said "There is no question in my mind that its positional judgment is far better than mine."

TD Gammon could care less about success. It had no ego. It didn't care if it made a brilliant move, or how many games it actually won. It only cared about the errors it made. It was programmed to do nothing, but continually improve. And that single-minded focus allowed it to dominate its field.

Written by Adam Harrell on August 4, 2009

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Chris says:

I wonder how many failed lives it would have to log before it "succeeded". :)

Chris says:

I wonder how many failed lives it would have to log before it "succeeded". :)

Hey Monty,

To be honest I've never even played backgammon myself :-)

A computer that helped with real life decisions would be interesting indeed. Although, I can only imagine the laziness it would breed.

Hey Monty,

To be honest I've never even played backgammon myself :-)

A computer that helped with real life decisions would be interesting indeed. Although, I can only imagine the laziness it would breed.

Life without errors would be dull indeed. However, I think the lesson is that if one truly wants to become great at something, the most important thing they can do is objectively focus on the things they're doing wrong and how to remedy it.

It's the same thing that Malcom Gladwell referred to in "Outliers" — the most important part of deliberate practice was getting accurate, critical feedback.

Life without errors would be dull indeed. However, I think the lesson is that if one truly wants to become great at something, the most important thing they can do is objectively focus on the things they're doing wrong and how to remedy it.

It's the same thing that Malcom Gladwell referred to in "Outliers" — the most important part of deliberate practice was getting accurate, critical feedback.

Most humans aren't humble enough to acknowledge and make inferences from failures. I want a computer which can help me with real life, not just backgammon :)!

Although it is a fun game to play with a friend or partner. I had a very good friend from Armenia who was surprised that Americans aren't as into backgammon as Europeans.

Most humans aren't humble enough to acknowledge and make inferences from failures. I want a computer which can help me with real life, not just backgammon :)!

Although it is a fun game to play with a friend or partner. I had a very good friend from Armenia who was surprised that Americans aren't as into backgammon as Europeans.

Fred Marks says:

If only 'real life' was like the movie "Ground Hog Day!" But then if we were always 'at the top of our game' and all human error was extinguished what would life be like? Fred

Fred Marks says:

If only 'real life' was like the movie "Ground Hog Day!" But then if we were always 'at the top of our game' and all human error was extinguished what would life be like? Fred

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