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    Entries in Deep Blue (4)

    Sunday
    Oct262014

    Another Look Back at the Second Kasparov-Deep Blue Match

    If you were a chess player at the time of the Kasparov-Deep Blue matches in 1996 and 1997 there's little you'll learn from this video by Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight crew on the second match. It does a very good job of summarizing the match in a way that's useful for "civilians", so I recommend it for the curious non-chess players in your life.

    HT: Allen Becker

    Friday
    May312013

    The Machine: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

    At least if you live in London or New York. "The Machine" is a play revisiting the second match between Garry Kasparov and Deep(er) Blue, won by the computer when Kasparov cracked and disintegrated in the sixth and final game. Needless to say - unfortunately - the historical event is of no particular importance to the play; it's just offers a convenient scaffolding for whatever idea the playwright has in mind.

    Here are a couple of representative quotes from playwright Matt Charman:

    I didn't want to write a play that was just about chess. In fact, the chess is almost the least important part of the play.

    [So what is the story about? What's the driving idea? The answer:] You've got these two guys [Kasparov, and Deep Blue's primary programmer and designer Feng-Hsiung Hsu] coming into America wanting what it's got to offer and, I think, both being seduced and ruined by it."

    Huh? The match happened to be in the United States, but how is this a "coming to America" story? Kasparov had been here many times and has an apartment in New York, but he wasn't "coming" here for any interesting reason. As for Feng-Hsiung Hsu, he had been in the U.S. for over a decade, beginning with his time as a grad student. It's also hard to see how either person was "ruined". It was a blow for Kasparov, but his chess career and life continued successfully after that event. In fact, just two years later Kasparov began the best run of his chess career, winning something like seven consecutive super-tournaments and pushing his rating to a then-record of 2851. It was no blow for his human "opponent" either: he won, gained some fame, and has continued his very successful work in the computer industry.

    So, if you have to miss one play this year, "The Machine" is it. In fact, I'd even consider leaving London or New York during the play's run.

    Here's an obvious question for the playwright: why not just write an original story, preferably one that's not about chess? It seems to me that "historical fiction" is a fancy way of minimizing the need for originality and creativity and getting a little free PR (based on the familiarity of the principals or the historical events). Meanwhile, an author has the freedom to lie like a psychopath engage in a bit of artistic license, just as long as he hides behind the term "art" and includes a boilerplate disclaimer.

    Please note: I'm not saying that there is anything slanderous or defamatory in this play. My point is that "historical fiction" is a genre that allows for defamation under the guise of "art". Thus while Charman's cartoons of Kasparov and Feng-Hsiung Hsu may produce characters who are just as praise- or blameworthy as the real individuals, it doesn't seem from the quotations that he has much concern for the principals' actual motivations.*

    Another "winning" quote:

    A piece of software beat the best and the brightest. What does that actually mean? We're suddenly not the smartest thing on the planet.

    Er, no, that's not what it means, and it's hard to believe that any reasonably intelligent person who stops to think about that claim for a few moments could really believe it. I think we would all agree that Kasparov is an exceptionally intelligent individual, but few people would claim that he is - or at least was as of 1997 - the smartest person (or "thing") on the planet. It isn't even clear that intelligence is such a tight, unified concept that one can identify, even in principle, someone who is THE smartest person on the planet.

    Comparatively speaking, that's a quibble; here's a more serious problem. We can grant that Deep Blue was a better chessplaying entity than Kasparov, but that's where its reputed intelligence ends. Deep Blue could only play chess, so all the things Kasparov could do that Deep Blue couldn't gives him an enormous plus in the intelligence department. Nor would reprogramming Deep Blue to perform other functions have solved the problem. Recognizing faces is a mundane and very routine skill for humans - even very young children have it down, and don't need to go to college to develop it. For computers, especially those of that era, it was a task at which they were utterly incompetent, and there are many other skills and feats that are routine for us and difficult-to-impossible for machines.

    Even more fundamentally, Deep Blue couldn't have been the smartest thing on the planet, because it didn't have any smarts at all. Even if one thinks computers will eventually be conscious or thinks we are just really fancy biological computers ourselves**, no one believes that Deep Blue was conscious. (I don't recall anyone picketing IBM and accusing them of murder when they ended the project and used its processors for other tasks.) No one thinks an abacus is "smart". Useful, sure, but not smart. Unless there's someone "there", computers like Deep Blue are also useful - incredibly useful - but still not smart.

    Enjoy the performance.

    HT: Bob Banta

    * Alert readers, especially those who disagree with what I'm writing, may think that I'm creating a caricature of Mr. Charman, and am thus guilty of doing what I've just criticized. In that case, consider this post as a satire. Now that it's art, the problem has been solved. See how easy that is?

    ** I grant neither assumption, or for that matter the assumption that the things we call computers exist as things in their own right as opposed to being collections of parts whose "unity" is a matter of performing functions of human interest, but I waive these challenges above for the sake of argument.

    Sunday
    Oct212012

    Kasparov-Deep Blue II: Another Perspective

    Much ink, and the digital equivalent, has been spilled on the subject of the second Garry Kasparov-Deep Blue match, won by the machine 3.5-2.5. Many, myself included, believe that Kasparov was still the stronger player at the time; his problem was that he managed to psych himself out by the time of game 6, which he lost horribly. That psychological collapse is believed to have started with his first loss in game two, when Deep Blue made a pair of surprisingly "human" moves: 37.Be4, which was human in a good way (a fine preventive move eschewing material gain to keep Black bottled up and without counterplay), and 44.Kf1, which allegedly blundered into an eventual perpetual check. (Kasparov, trusting the computer, resigned a move later.)

    It is clear that the game, and the mysteriousness of those two moves, affected him strongly. But according to statistician Nate Silver, Kasparov's psychological confusion began in game 1, when the computer made a rather silly move due to a bug. Silver thinks (or maybe reports) that Kasparov took this as a sign of the depth of Deep Blue's algorithm rather than as a bug, and the spooking began.

    Is it true? Who knows. It's an interesting story, though.

    (HT: Ken Regan)

    Saturday
    Jul142012

    A Look Back at Deeper Blue vs. Kasparov, 1997/Game 2

    Remember the second match between Deep(er) Blue and Garry Kasparov? This is the one where computers supposedly proved their superiority to human beings in chess. Kasparov had defeated its predecessor the year before by a relatively comfortable 4-2 score, but the rematch in 1997 went differently. Kasparov opened with a comfortable win, but then lost game 2 in what turned out to be controversial style, drew the next three games (though coming close to victory in games 4 and 5), but then had a complete breakdown in the last game, getting crushed in just 19 moves. Thus Kasparov lost the match 3.5-2.5, and the popular media widely broadcast that this was the end of humanity's reign over the royal game. This was almost surely false, but like the old joke goes, we're just haggling over the price; there's absolutely no doubt at this point that decent programs running on decent home computers are far stronger than even the best humans on their best day.

    But back to the match. Game 2 was a huge turning point, and not just because the computer won. Kasparov was playing the Closed Ruy - not exactly one of his main openings with the black pieces - and was getting impressively outplayed. A first move that shook up Kasparov was 37.Be4. To human eyes, it's really obvious. Black has no counterplay anywhere, but would if he could play ...e4. Prevent it, and the world is White's oyster. The problem was that 37.Qb6 seems like a simple win of material. The standard view of computers was that they would take free material in all but the most obvious cases where doing so would be wrong, but here it didn't.

    But if that bothered Kasparov a bit after the game, that was nothing compared with what happened later. The computer apparently continued rolling along with its positional masterpiece, and when Deep Blue played 45.Ra6 Kasparov threw in the towel. Anyway, analysis later that night seemed to show that in the final position Kasparov missed a draw with 45...Qe3, with an inevitable perpetual check. As the line wasn't even too terribly long, especially for a computer calculating 300 million positions per second, it really seemed to Kasparov that the hand of human intervention was at work. If 37.Be4 was the sort of move where typically human judgment is better than that of a materialistic computer's, then 44.Kf1 is a moment where human judgment falls short relative to the computer's. The engine can work things out to the bloody end; humans can't.

    And yet...Deep Blue didn't. How was this possible? After and even during the match, Kasparov requested - or rather, demanded - the logs displaying the computer's evaluation. (Unless I'm badly mistaken, the Deep Blue team claims that they were given shortly after the match, as promised (and even published publicly), but for some reason I haven't been able to ascertain Kasparov continued to insist on their release.) Logs or no logs, it still seemed surprising that Deep Blue missed the perpetual.

    But did it? There has been a lot of analysis of the ending since then, and if anything has become clear it's that if there is a draw, it isn't a trivial one. Whether it's a draw at all is an interesting question in its own right, but it's a very different issue from that of the alleged perpetual check. Also, importantly, this non-perpetual line is also relatively obvious for the computer; that is, it's plausible and well within its search horizon. It's clear that White - Deep Blue - is better in the resulting position, but this doesn't settle all the doubts either.

    Did Deep Blue spot the perpetual check variations? IF it did, then it would have had to assess the non-perpetual variations as better for it than the endgame after 44.Kh1 Rb8 45.Qc6 Qxc6 46.dxc6. Contemporary engines prefer 44.Kh1, but did Deep Blue?

    I've culled material from various Web sources: Ken Regan recently addressed the topic, Wikipedia has a decent introductory survey on the issue, and there are various analytical suggestions in the thread devoted to the game on ChessGames.com. For a historical look back readers may wish a look at this ChessBase article. Finally, I've amassed the analysis from the listed sites and added some of my own here, which you can replay and download. Doubtless there are mistakes in my analysis - I ran it on an older computer, for one thing - so I hope that those of you with access to souped-up hardware will find some improvements.