Kasparov and the Machine

Kasparov and the Machine

Jul 20, 2015, 9:55 AM |

Any American surely remembers the tall tale of John Henry, who drove railroad spikes with such efficiency, skill, and strength that he could only be measured against a machine. Indeed, that day came, and John Henry drive the spike with everything he had. John Henry beat the machine, but his heart gave out from the effort and he died.

It's hard not to think of John Henry when thinking about Kasparov versus Deep Blue. In fact, the parallels are staggering. Anyone who has studied his games will agree that Kasparov is almost machine-like in his skill. For my money, Kasparov (not Fischer, Morphy, Anand, Karpov, etc.) reigns at the top, but that's biased and I don't believe anything objective truly places Kasparov above the others.

However, in the 90s Kasparov was undoubtedly the best, and by a huge margin. It was, therefore, not surprising when IBM sought a rematch against Kasparov, after suffering humiliating defeats at his hands years before.

There are reasons to believe that IBM cheated, but it doesn't matter. Whether IBM cheated or not, it's a mistake to look at Deep Blue as a single entity; it wasn't. Deep Blue was an amalgamation of dozens of world-level grandmasters, the world's best programmers, and the world's foremost engineers. That was Kasparov's opponent: a team of programmers, engineers, and grandmasters.

In retrospect, it's not surprising that Kasparov lost, but it's also not surprising that the chess world has evidently decided that computers are for analysis, not playing against. And while that is certainly helping keep chess interesting, it won't stop the flow of progress nor prevent the day when chess is solved. It's also akin to having that one friend who beats everyone at Mortal Kombat, until everyone decides, "Well, we're not playing with him anymore."

Although I'm not arguing that we should feel sympathy for the computer, standing alone and kicking the grass idly on the playground because no one wants to play with it. As of yet, computers shouldn't garner pity--one day, yes, but we're still far from that day.

However, I have to think that IBM didn't truly comprehend what they were doing. Humanity put forward its best against Deep Blue, and Deep Blue was decisively victorious. It was a severe blow to humanity, the chess world, and Kasparov's life. Here, Kasparov had devoted nearly his entire life to mastering chess, to being the best, only to be dethroned by a machine.

In reality, John Henry lost.

However, in one of the games Deep Blue crashed. Kasparov was WAY too good a sport about it. In my rule book, an opponent who collapses at the table forfeits the game, if not the match. Although I'd sympathize with a human and simply adjourn the game to another day, computers aren't deserving of sympathy.

I'm going to add to this later, but I'm at work and my break is over. Peace.