Microsoft-built system masters mahjong

Microsoft said its researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that has taught itself the intricacies of Mahjong and can now match the skills of some of the world’s top players.

And while computers have learned to play Chess and Go, another ancient Chinese game, scientists at Microsoft Research (MSR) Asia see their achievement as far more than just a case of technology mastering yet another game.

The researchers – who named their system Super Phoenix, or Suphx for short – developed a series of AI algorithmic breakthroughs to navigate the uncertain nature of Mahjong.

With more work, these could potentially be applied in real situations to solve problems thrown up by unknown factors and random events.

“For as long as researchers have studied AI, they have worked to build agents capable of accomplishing game missions,” said Hsiao-Wuen Hon, corporate VP of Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D Group and MSR Asia.

The team designed Suphx to self-learn Mahjong’s strategies, tactics, and subtleties through the experience of playing against thousands of people on Tenhou –- a Japan-based global online Mahjong competition platform with more than 300,000 members.

With constant machine learning, Suphx went from being a novice to an expert after more than 5,000 games over four months. The more it played, the more it learned at an ever-increasing pace.

Suphx has now honed its own playing style and can balance attack and defence moves, strategically weigh short-term losses against long-term gains, and make quick hand calculations and decisions with unclear information.