Monday, January 25, 2010

The Chess Master And The Computer

Garry Kasparov On Chess Metaphors

Thirteen years after Deep Blue beat him at chess, Garry Kasparov has written a long, thoughtful article about humanity's search for a meaning behind the event. Manages to cram in quite a lot of insights about both artificial intelligence in general, and the way the game of chess has changed among human opponents. As someone with a small fondness for chess and a large fondness for AI, I enjoyed it a lot.

There have been many unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the rapid proliferation of powerful chess software. Kids love computers and take to them naturally, so it's no surprise that the same is true of the combination of chess and computers. With the introduction of super-powerful software it became possible for a youngster to have a top-level opponent at home instead of needing a professional trainer from an early age. Countries with little by way of chess tradition and few available coaches can now produce prodigies. I am in fact coaching one of them this year, nineteen-year-old Magnus Carlsen, from Norway, where relatively little chess is played.

The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn't good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn't been done that way before. It's simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't. Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.

1 comment:

  1. I'm tempted to draw a pararelism between that and morality. But I shouldn't.