Cicero can beat humans at the alliance-building game Diplomacy

The company’s artificial intelligence researchers have recently disclosed a significant development, which is unusually positive news from Meta. Their artificial intelligence (AI) software Cicero can now compete with humans in the board game Diplomacy.

To be clear, Cicero isn’t playing at a superhuman level, so don’t get too excited. About 10% of the people it played against defeated it. Humans have long since been completely outclassed in previous AI milestones like AI defeating humans in chess or go.

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For instance, Chinese grandmaster Ke Jie has referred to DeepMind’s Go-playing AI as a “Go god.” Now, even the world Go champion would fall to the computer 100-0.

alliance-building game Diplomacy
alliance-building game Diplomacy

Rival armies and navies entering or not invading each other’s lands is the basic and abstract game of diplomacy. It’s fair to remark that it lacks the nuance and depth of the diplomatic maneuvers made in the halls of the UN.

Nevertheless, DeepMind owner Google and other industry rivals took offense at the revelation of Cicero’s performance. Demis Hassabis, the CEO and founder of DeepMind, is a master of diplomacy. He was fourth globally in the 2006 World Championship after winning the World Team Championship in 2004.

I believe Hassabis would easily defeat Cicero due to some of the drawbacks I shall discuss in a moment.

The game of Diplomacy

Researchers in artificial intelligence refer to diplomacy as a “seven-player, zero-sum, and deterministic game of imperfect information.” A game with seven players is much more challenging to solve than a game with two players, like chess or go. You must take into account not one, but six other players’ varied potential strategies. This makes creating an AI to play the game considerably more difficult.

Because players move at the same time, diplomacy is also a game of incomplete information. Players in diplomacy make moves without knowing what their opponents are about to do, in contrast to games like chess or go where you can predict every move your opponent will make. They must thus anticipate what their opponents will do next. The difficulty of creating an AI to play it is also increased by this.

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Last but not least, diplomacy is a zero-sum game in which I lose if I succeed. Furthermore, the result is predetermined and not subject to chance. However, it still pays for players to form alliances and rely on one another before victory or defeat. Managing the informal negotiations with other players before making simultaneous moves is in fact one of the real challenges of the game.

Cicero’s performance is a scientific advance primarily because it excels at both playing the game and conducting these informal negotiations. This is a first for any AI that plays games—the combination of natural language processing and strategic reasoning.

Beating Cicero

A close reading of the article Meta wrote on Cicero and published in the journal Science provides a few hints as to how to overcome it.

First of all, unlike the great Roman, it is named for, Cicero is almost fully honest. Conversely, diplomacy is a game of deceit and betrayal. Players propose to create coalitions but many break their promises right away. Cicero disagrees. It plays straight every time.

alliance-building game Diplomacy
alliance-building game Diplomacy

Honesty is a surprisingly successful diplomatic tactic, but only if your adversaries are aware that you would never betray them. The catch is that. Since Cicero played in an anonymous fashion, its human opponents were unlikely to figure this out. But if you are aware of this phenomenon, it will be simple to exploit.

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Second, like his namesake, Cicero is a talkative person. Expert Diplomacy players converse with other players twice as often as novice ones do. The key is to build coalitions and reassure your adversaries of your intentions. Additionally, Cicero sends and receives twice as many messages as the human opponents he often defeats.

Cicero can handle six chats at once much more easily because he is a bot. And in this situation, I believe being a computer has an unfair edge.

What next?

It’s unclear how Meta plans to expand on this study. A strong tool is a computer that can reason about other people’s views, objectives, and intentions as well as persuade and foster connections through conversation. It has the potential to be readily abused. Let’s not forget how Facebook (owned by Meta) received a lot of well-deserved criticism for an experiment to alter users’ emotions a few years ago.

However, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Cicero’s applications in the modern world would be. After all, diplomacy is neither deterministic nor zero-sum in the actual world. Both nations will prevail if they agree to avoid conflict.

Then there are the countless random variables that can alter a result. For instance, the Spanish Armada suffered more ship losses from unanticipated summer storms than from enemy fire.

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Whatever Meta’s intentions, the development is yet another illustration of how big tech businesses are dominating the AI race with billion-dollar investments that the government simply cannot match. A group of more than 25 researchers created Cicero. No university employee has access to these kinds of tools to use to crack a board game.

I have mixed feelings about this as an AI researcher at one of those universities. I’m thinking of a well-known graffiti in Pompeii that said

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