Ants on the brain

Google AI Challenge—Week 2:

I think my ants are losing faith in me, as I haven’t uploaded a new version of my AI to the official server for a couple days now. New things are still in the pipeline, but I’ve lost my last 3 matches (though my opponents were ranked higher than me and probably deserve it too).

IU now has more than 5 people with active submissions, but the upcoming CS Club Hackathon will change that! I’m excited to co-organize the hackathon, which will consist of an all-day coding party dedicated to writing an ants AI. Dustin and I, as organizers, will be running matches and generally running things, and since we already have entries in the competition, we’ll be helping other aspiring antlords to get their own AI up and running.

Thanks to the school, we should have a competition server up and running soon, as opposed to running an unofficial TCP server. Prizes will also be offered to our hackathon winners, so I hope to see some creative strategies. I expect that there will be somebody wanting to use Haskell or JavaScript, but we’ll see how far they get.

Of course, I’ve been thinking about people’s choices of languages in the competition. The top-ranking bots are mostly “industry” languages like C++, Java, and Python, but there are a couple bots written in Go, OCaml, and Pascal up there. There’s definitely a trade-off between compiled languages like C and C++ and higher-level languages like Java and Python. In this competition, time is becoming a sticking point on many bots—you simply can’t run A* on as many ants in Java as you can in C. On the other hand, the time I’ve spent debugging memory errors could have probably been spent on improving my AI strategies.

Language designers are working to pull together this gap between productivity and speed: Google’s Go combines garbage collection and better concurrency models with the spirit of C, and Rust is another interesting but young language out of Mozilla. In the meantime, Java bot writers in the competition are just making do with timers to keep track of when to stop their calculations.

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