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.
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.