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.