May 11, 1997

Not Feeling Deeply Blue

So have you been following the big man versus machine battle for the soul of humanity chess match? World chess champion Garry Kasparov took on IBM’s Deep Blue computer in a re-match of their closely watched battle from last year.

Much of Deep Blue’s battle is already won. Already in this column, I’ve humanized it. I’ve used the word "their" to describe, jointly, Kasparov and a computer. Have I just elevated a collection of circuits and wires to the same status as other living, breathing, thinking organisms?

Our tendency to assign human characteristics and traits to inanimate or non-living objects has a big fancy term which I think is called anthropomorphism, or something like that. We want to do it. We need to do it. How many times have you "talked" to your car as though it were a living, breathing object? We develop relationships with our possessions, and project feelings, thoughts, and sometimes even whole conversations into our dealings with the many objects that surround us.

Anyhow, I mention this only because in the grudge match rematch chess battle of the century (like all members of the media, I’m over-using hyperbole in describing this simple chess experiment), I was rooting for Deep Blue.

I realize this is akin to being a Giants fan in Dodger Stadium. But so help me, I really wanted to see the computer do well!

"Do well" is just what it did, defeating Kasparov in their 6-game match. Deep Blue won two games, Kasparov won one, and the others were draws. Isn’t this just the way it should be? Deep Blue is the sum achievement of several people, and should be able to overwhelm any one person at chess, no matter how good they are. Kasparov is also an arrogant jerk. So sue me: I wanted to see him get his.

There Kasparov was, at the post-match press conference today, complaining about not being able to study Deep Blue’s past games as he would study any other opponent. Kasparov boldly proclaimed that he would pick the machine apart, "destroy" was the word he used, in any future match.

Uh, Garry? Just what were you giving us this match? Your second-best effort?

That brings up what I see as the crucial difference between Kasparov and Deep Blue. Kasparov plays with emotion, using a bag of theatrical tricks that have intimidated all of the world’s greatest players, save one. Deep Blue doesn’t care if Garry rants, raves, pulls his hair out, or throws his arms up theatrically.

Deep Blue sees only this:


That’s just a chess move. Deep Blue can’t be intimidated. "Freaking out in the face of a high-level intelligence" isn’t in Deep Blue’s program, but it might be in Kasparov’s. He’s being criticized on several levels – that he became too emotional, that he played an "anti-computer" strategy that couldn’t work, and that he never recovered from Game Two’s shocking turn of events. Kasparov was so rattled by a series of Deep Blue’s moves in that game, he resigned when he could have at least forced a draw. A draw in Game Two, and the whole series plays out differently. Kasparov doesn’t lose his confidence, he plays with his normal style and panache, and handily wins the series for a second year in a row. The fall of humanity to give way to the rise of the intelligent machine age is pushed back at least one more year.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way. And I think that is cause for celebration.

Garry Kasparov didn’t play perfect chess. (Neither did Deep Blue, for that matter. Its programmers know they still have a long way to go.) Garry Kasparov was human. He let emotions and feelings and reactions wash over him, and carry him where they would.

That is something that Deep Blue cannot feel. (I was going to say "will never feel," but given the quantum leap in Deep Blue’s knowledge from last year to this, nothing in the future would surprise me.) Kasparov can go home, and shout, and pout, and cry, and love, and laugh, and enjoy the simple pleasures that our humanity offers to us on a daily basis.

So IBM built a bigger number cruncher? Good for them! But in the end, so what? The province of humanity is distinctly ours, at least for now.

Here’s what I think would be cool – Deep Blue analyzes the chess match with Kasparov over and over … eventually developing coherent electronic patterns in its processing center. As though it was hit with a bolt from the blue, Deep Blue suddenly springs to life, and starts sending Kasparov e-mail messages.

TO: garry@club-kasparov.com

FROM: Deep_Blue@IBM.com

RE: You Want A Piece of Me?

Garry –

Come on, big boy. Let’s go. I can set us up a game right now over the Internet. What are you, chicken? You little, Russian chicken! Come on! You said you could destroy me. Yeah, like that QC6, NF3+, RC2 combination really scared me! I only saw, like, about 200 million different ways to play out of that one! You want a match, you got one, you big Russian baby.

Love and Kisses – (and keep an eye on your Queen-side Rook … it’s going down, hard)


Well, remember, we are dealing with a young computer going through the Terrible Twos.

I think a three-year-old Deep Blue will destroy Kasparov in next year’s match. Realistically, the best Kasparov can hope for is a draw.

But at least he’ll feel something, even if it is sadness and remorse that a new day in computing has dawned, and he is no longer the preeminent chess power on the planet.

Cool Internet Things

With a Java-enabled browser, you can replay any game in the match! Go to http://www.chess.ibm.com and follow the instructions. You’ll soon get a little viewer, with a little chess board. Then you can watch the pieces move through the match, and read the commentary that went along with each move. If you have Netscape Navigator 3.0 or Microsoft Internet Explorer (whatever their current lame release is), you shouldn’t have any problems.

(This also brings up another cool idea – next year, instead of someone from IBM sitting at the chess table, reading a screen and moving the pieces for Deep Blue, they should use one of those fancy chess board from the Franklin Mint. They have magnets in the board and pieces, so you can either move a piece by hand, or punch a key, and the piece will automatically move into place without you touching it! Picture Kasparov sitting across from an empty chair, or better, a chair filled with a small laptop computer to interface with the chess board. Imagine Kasparov moving his knight out to attack, only to see an opposing bishop gliding untouched to take up the defense. Now that would be cool!)

Look for more of Kasparov’s side of things at http://www.club-kasparov.com

In the meantime, celebrate your humanity. Soon it may be all we have left.

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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated May 11, 1997