The Matchbox Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine (sometimes called the Machine Educable Noughts and Crosses Engine) or MENACE was an analogue computer made up of 304 matchboxes designed and built by Donald Michie in 1961. It was designed to play human opponents in games of noughts and crosses (also known as tic-tac-toe) by returning a move for any given state of play and to refine its strategy through reinforcement learning.Computer equipment was not readily available for non-government use, so Michie worked around this restriction by building it out of matchboxes.The matchboxes used by Michie each represented a single possible layout of a Noughts and Crosses grid. When the computer first played, it would randomly choose moves based on the current layout. As it played more games, through a reinforcement loop, it disqualified strategies that led to losing games, and supplemented strategies that led to winning games. Michie held a tournament against MENACE in 1961, wherein he experimented with different openings.
Following MENACE's maiden tournament against Michie, it was shown to be a successful computer. Michie's essays on MENACE's weight initialisation and the BOXES algorithm used by MENACE became popular in the field of computer science research. Michie was honoured for his contribution to machine learning research, and was twice commissioned to program a MENACE simulation on an actual computer.
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