Sunday, February 21, 2010

What happened to Deep Blue?

Check out this amazing article written by Kasparov, the chess grandmaster who battled Deep Blue, the supercomputer built by IBM to play chess. Kasparov's career spanned a period when computers progressed from a weak chess player to an unbeatable one. By observing how computers quickly overpowered the best grandmasters we have to offer, Kasparov drew important insights on the human minds and artificial intelligence.

The most interesting finding made by Kasparov came from his observation at a freestyle chess tournament in 2005 where anyone could compete in teams with other human players or computers. A relatively strong human player teamed up with a weak computer quickly overwhelmed the best grandmasters or even the strongest supercomputers. The strength of human strategic planning combined with accurate calculations from a computer teammate was unmatchable.

At this point in human history, a chess grandmaster will have a tough time beating even an average chess program - humans have succeeded at building a machine to play chess. As the field of computer engineering moved on to other problems, Kasparov lingered on and noted that the chess computers we have built was nothing similar to what engineers had in mind when they decided to build machines that play chess. We wanted to build computers that play chess and think like a human - an artificial intelligence of sort. Instead, what we have now is computers that win by the sheer brute force of calculations - they assign numbers to pieces and positions, process a whole lot of numbers and possible moves, then pick the best one. They have no imagination or intuition, only processing power.

In my head I struggle between "complement" computers and artificial intelligence. Building machines that complete tasks by complementing our weakness is definitely helpful - calculators was a humble but powerful start. But do we stop there and leave imagination to humans, or do we venture further to create computers that can think for us? What are the ramifications of the world where machines can dream? If our strength is the power of imagination, what happens when we give this gift to our computer counterpart? Computers that mimic the human minds will revolutionalize our productivity, but then what is left for humans to do?

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