Passages to Ponder, Chess Edition

Garry Kasparov, The Chess Master and the Computer, New York Review of Books (Feb. 11, 2010

In 2005, the online chess-playing site hosted what it called a “freestyle” chess tournament in which anyone could compete in teams with other players or computers. Normally, “anti-cheating” algorithms are employed by online sites to prevent, or at least discourage, players form cheating with computer assistance. (I wonder if these detection algorithms, which employ diagnostic analysis of moves and calculate probabilities, are any less “intelligent” than the playing programs they detect.)

Lured by the substantial prize money, several groups of strong grandmasters working with several computers at the same time entered the competition. At first the results seemed predictable. The teams of human plus machine dominated even the strongest computers. The chess machine Hydra, which is a chess-specific supercomputer like Deep Blue, was no match for a strong human player using a relatively weak laptop. Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer was overwhelming.

The surprise came at the conclusion of the event. The winner was revealed to be not a grandmaster with a state-of-the-art PC but a pair of amateur American chess players using three computers at the same time. Their skill at manipulating and “coaching” their computers to look very deeply into positions counteracted the superior chess understanding of their grandmaster opponents and the greater computational power of other participants. Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone, and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.

So? My husband’s an artificial intelligence R & D person. I hear this kind of thing all the time. What’s your point?


By the way, if you are interested in one of the ways Google is likely to turn the scanned books into a significant artificial intellience profit center, check out the implications of:


Sales of much bigger corpuses to the AI community. Improvements to Google’s machine translator. Machine translations of scanned books. Without paying the copyright holders.

Plus, not mentioned in these articles but not unlikely since Amazon is trying it: Machine audio recordings of scanned books.