The unwinnable game

Two humans – one Norwegian and one Indian – have been competing for the World Chess Championship (Update – Norwegian chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen has become the world champion, beating Indian title holder Viswanathan Anand. – Deskarati). Neither of them would fancy their chances against the best computers. The machines have come a long way and their progress has taken us closer to achieving artificial intelligence.

In 1968 chess master David Levy made a bet that by 1978 no computer could beat him in a series of games. He won the bet. In fact, it took most of the 1980s before he was finally beaten. “After I won the first bout, I made a second bet for a period of five years. I stopped betting after that. At that point I could see what was coming.”

In 1997, the best player in the world Garry Kasparov was beaten by the IBM computer Deep Blue in a controversial series. Today, the world’s best player Magnus Carlsen would be foolish to make a Levy-style bet. The best computers would beat him. But the progress that computers have made against one task – beating the best humans at chess – offers a lesson for the whole way people think about the future of artificial intelligence.

Garry Kasparov playing Deep Blue

The man who coined the term “artificial intelligence” – the American scientist John McCarthy – identified early on that chess matches, and other complex games, were a good way of testing the progress of machines.

“One has an absolute measure and target to beat,” says Levy. “In many games, there are rating systems – we can have an object measure. For all these reasons, games are a very good vehicle for AI. Playing a game requires a combination of skills, including intelligence.”

McCarthy oversaw the creation of the first chess programme to play convincingly. By 1962 the programme – Kotok-McCarthy – was as good as a mediocre human. But it later lost the first match between computers when pitted against a Soviet rival. That match spawned a tradition of computer v computer battles that eventually led to the World Computer Chess Championship. For 40 years, programmers have been doing battle against other programmers. A film comedy released in the UK this week, Computer Chess, uses these singular contests as its backdrop

Read the rest of this facinating article here The unwinnable game.

This entry was posted in Chess, Interesting, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.