Games: Chess

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A computer program that can be stored on a single floppy disc and run on any desktop PC has proved itself superior to both IBM's Deep Blue and the world chess champion Garry Kasparov. In supervised tests in San Francisco, the new program, called Deus (Digital Evaluation of Unequalled Sophistication), has been finding all the best moves played in earlier games by Kasparov, Deep Blue and other great players, as well as improving on their mistakes. And it finds them in a fraction of the time.

Surprisingly, the program has been produced not by a major computer company or software house but by a Californian religious sect that believes in a holy link between God and machine intelligence. It is a fundamental tenet of the Church of the Pious Programmer that artificial intelligence can be superior to human intelligence, and that only by writing better computer programs will man be able to grow nearer to God. Since playing perfect chess has proved to be beyond the human brain, the construction of a perfect chess program has always been seen as an important step towards godliness.

The church describes itself as a "co-episcopate": it is run by two bishops, known only as "W" and "B" (the origin of the initials is uncertain, though some think they may stand for "Wells" and "Bath") who seem only rarely to be seen together.

"We tread our separate paths," explained Bishop B, "and that is the secret of our success. You see, other programmers fall into the trap of trying to keep perfect control over their programs, which thus never rise above the level of mere algorithms. Just as consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of the human brain, great chess can arise only from confusion."

So the program has been half-written by B and half by W, neither seeing the details of the other's work. "We call it FOM," said the bishop: "Forget Only Memory. It's the machine equivalent of those brilliant insights you sometimes have when you can't quite remember something and you have to reinvent it. All true creativity is based on forgetfulness."

Sadly there are no plans to market the chess program, for Deus has already moved on to the more challenging task of writing poetry. "How about a poem on waste, then," I suggested, thinking only of what a waste it would be if the chess program was not put to good use.

Deus purred for a moment, then out came its opening line: "April is the cruellest month."