Mathematics represented at Science Spectacular fair

There were forty interactive science stalls for audiences of all ages. As in previous years, the School of Mathematics was present with an interactive demonstration of machine learning, using the hexapawn game invented by Martin Gardner.

Each of four mechanical learning machines, handcrafted by Andrew Hazel and Charles Walkden in the School and used at previous public events, consists of a box with multiple drawers, one for each possible board configuration encountered by the machine. Taking turns with a human player, the machine randomly selects a possible move from the corresponding drawer (executed by a human hand). If the machine loses a game, the last selected move is considered bad and put into a bin, therefore never chosen again. Over time, the machine becomes stronger and stronger at hexapawn, trained to be invincible (if there is a guaranteed winning strategy) or refusing to play the game (if there is no winning strategy).

This year, the Mathematics stall was organized by our School’s Elizabeth Buckingham-Jeffery, Stefan Güttel, Thomas Kempton, and Yanghong Huang, who in total trained the learning machines more than 300 times with many interested kids and adults. It was also a great opportunity to discuss timely questions on artificial intelligence, reinforcement learning, and what mathematics has to contribute to this exciting field. We thank all Science Spectacular organizers and other participants for a great event, and already look forward to next year!

More photos of the event can be found on our Flickr page.

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