Towards Solving Chess … and a Technological Singularity?

Jun 25, 2011, 10:20 AM |

From the dawn of the computer-chess era to the present, numerous advances on both the hardware side as well as on the software side have occurred. Indeed, technology in general has advanced at a rapid pace during the past 60 years. Where will Moore’s Law ultimately lead humanity?[1][2] What role might the game of chess play in shaping the future of mankind?

Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.

If we are to believe the predictions of certain futurists, a technological singularity will occur sometime in the 21st century. Although there are competing schools of thought concerning the nature of the Singularity, many Singularity Theorists agree that the creation of smarter-than-human artificial intelligence is possible if not inevitable[3][4] and such a development will usher in a new era of extremely rapid technological progress. According to Dr. Vernor Vinge: 

When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities -- on a still-shorter time scale.

The game of chess also makes an appearance in a number of the writings of Singularity Theorists (see here, here, here, here). Dr. Vinge, in his NASA sponsored 1993 paper, even goes so far as to identify a human + computer symbiosis in chess (i.e. advanced chess) as a key project that might “serve to advance us toward the Singularity along the IA Path.” Dr. Vinge wrote:

When people speak of creating superhumanly intelligent beings, they are usually imagining an AI project. But as I noted at the beginning of this paper, there are other paths to superhumanity. Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than AI, and yet they could lead to the Singularity. I call this contrasting approach Intelligence Amplification (IA). IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. …

Here are some possible projects that take on special significance, given the IA point of view:

Allow human/computer teams at chess tournaments. We already have programs that can play better than almost all humans. But how much work has been done on how this power could be used by a human, to get something even better? If such teams were allowed in at least some chess tournaments, it could have the positive effect on IA research that allowing computers in tournaments had for the corresponding niche in AI.

If the Singularity Theorists are correct then chess may be more than just a past time; chess may hold a key to the future of humanity. The Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (OECO) is but one project that promotes research into human + computer partnerships in chess.