Go for its plug, Garry! - Life and Style - The Independent

Go for its plug, Garry!

Today in New York, the world chess champion faces a new challenge from the most powerful chess computer. William Hartston assesses the prospects

In 1770, at the court of Maria Theresa of Austria, Baron Otto von Kempelen caused a sensation by demonstrating the world's chess-playing automaton. "The Turk" was a man-sized turbanned figure seated at a chess table. When a human opponent sat at the other side of the board, it would reply to his moves with a cranking of joints as its hand moved to a piece, picked it up, and deposited it on the chosen square. And it won the vast majority of its games.

Doubters, naturally enough, suspected that a strong human player was hiding in its innards, but von Kempelen delighted in opening a variety of doors to the cabinets beneath the board to reveal a fine collection of cogs and levers, but no sign of any person operating them.

It was, of course, all an illusion. There was a man inside, but his location changed as doors opened and closed, thanks to an ingenious system of sliding platforms and pulleys. Whichever door you opened, he was never there.

After a successful tour of the courts of Europe - there is even one tale of its sweeping the pieces from the board in disgust when the Emperor Napoleon tried to test it by making a series of illegal moves - The Turk lost its novelty value and went into retirement. However, when von Kempelen died, the machine was sold to Johann Maelzel, inventor of the metronome, who added music to its charms and launched it on a highly acclaimed tour of America.

The Turk epitomised our fascination with the idea of an intellectual struggle between men and machines. However, for a machine to play respectable chess without having a man hidden inside it we had to wait for the development of electronic computers.

Since the earliest days of the computer, the game of chess, with its high premium on accurate calculation, has played an important part. The early development of artificial intelligence was haunted by this thought: if computers can't even beat humans at chess, what hope do they have for making really complex decisions? Chess was the touchstone by which machine intelligence would be measured.

In 1864, Charles Babbage had speculated about the possibilities of his "analytical engine" playing chess; in 1948, Norbert Wiener, pioneer of cybernetics, discussed the idea of a chess-playing computer; in 1950, Claude Shannon proposed a theoretical strategy for such a machine; in 1951, Alan Turing wrote out a chess algorithm that could be calculated by hand. Finally, around 1960, a machine first defeated its programmer.

All the same, the top human players could afford to be scornful of computer chess for another 30 years. While the artificial intelligentsia repeatedly predicted that a machine would be world champion "within 10 years", the decades rolled past without computers attaining professional standards. They became very good at avoiding tactical errors (which decide the vast majority of amateur games), but concepts of deep strategy continued to elude them. With increased processing speed, however, that began to change.

Chess is a game at which humans ought, by most rational criteria, to be rather bad. With up to 32 pieces scattered over 64 squares, a typical position contains too much information for us to take in. Experiments have repeatedly shown that our brains can only juggle about seven pieces of information at any one time Yet we cope very well at chess by using our highest skills of pattern recognition and concept formation to turn chess into a game of high-level judgement rather than pure calculation. The question for computers is how much calculation is necessary to render such judgement and strategy redundant.

Last year, we came close to an asnwer. Computers will never be able to analyse all the possibilities in a chess game - there are more possibilities for the first 25 moves than there are atoms in the universe - but when Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer, started thinking at the rate of two million chess positions every second, it proved it could give humanity a fair run for its money. Indeed, in the first game of its challenge match in 1996 against Garry Kasparov, the strongest human player, Deep Blue registered an astonishing victory. In later games, however, Kasparov treated the beast with more respect and won the match by three wins to one with two draws.

Today, the return match starts. Deeper Blue thinks twice as fast as last year's model and, we are told, has considerably more chess knowledge incorporated into its program. Kasparov is still a clear favourite, but he is almost alone among top players in believing that the tide of silicon can be checked for much longer. The playing strength of computers has increased with their processing speed at a constant rate. And processing speed doubles every 18 months. At that rate, Kasparov has no more than a couple of years left before ceding his crown to a heap of metal.

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Energy Markets Analyst

    £400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

    Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Nursery Manager

    £22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week