What Deep Blue Taught Kasparov - and Us

Article excerpt

Rebounding from defeat last year, the Deep Blue supercomputer has won a signal victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov - showing how far it has come, but also how far it still has to go to achieve its enormous potential.

Mr. Kasparov's performance also highlighted strengths and weaknesses, from the amazing ingenuity of the mind to the pitfalls of erroneous thinking that bedevil humans - both on and off the chessboard. The news from this match is good, showing that man-machine interfacing can have salutary effects for the advance of human as well as artificial intelligence.

Deep Blue came to the match with enhanced quantitative computing power. It can now assess 200 million positions per second, about 100 million times human calculating ability. Its tactical powers, move by move, have improved substantially. More important, Deep Blue has also been programmed with a new set of qualitative skills for assessing strategic aspects of the game. This substantial shift toward conceptual understanding made Deep Blue far stronger than it was last year. Its subtle handling of the complexities of Game 2 led to a strategic masterpiece comparable to the greatest performances of any human chess master. Its tenacious, resourceful defensive maneuvers in Games 3, 4, and 5 also showed a sophisticated awareness of the positional nuances that lie at the heart of chess. Kasparov also showed signs of growth from last year, clearly prodded by lessons that he learned from his first match with Deep Blue. While his career has been built on tactical sharpness, his understanding that he could not outpunch Deep Blue led him to rely more on strategic judgment than sharp, direct attacks. As a result, the world champion's amazing chess powers have broadened even further. Indeed, Kasparov himself is one of the most devoted users of computers for analysis and match preparation. As both Kasparov and Deep Blue beefed up their strategic, positional thinking coming into the match, how did their respective capabilities match up? Despite Deep Blue's magnificent advances in conceptual logic, the human player outshone the intelligent machine as a strategist. In Game 1, Kasparov's profound understanding of the nature of position allowed him to make a sacrifice, which could not be recovered, but which gave him a winning advantage. …