It’s 1997, and Garry Kasparov is hunched over a chessboard, visibly frustrated. He’s fidgeting in between turns and shaking his head in disbelief as he waits for his opponent to put the final touches on an inevitable victory. Finally, Kasparov makes his move, stands up and races away from the board. He raises his arms, astounded that he was beaten by a machine.
His opponent was the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue, a machine that was capable of imagining an average of 200,000,000 positions per second. But going into the match, Kasparov was confident. He was the Michael Jordan of chess at the time. He had been beating chess-playing computers since the ‘80s (he’ll remind you that he defeated an earlier version of Deep Blue in 1996) and was considered nearly unbeatable.
So when Kasparov, one of the greatest chess players of all time, lost to a computer in front of a global audience, people began to wonder whether it was just a matter of time before machines surpassed humans in other aspects of life.
Immediately after the match, Kasparov was bitter. In December 2016, discussing the match in a podcast with neuroscientist Sam Harris, Kasparov advised of a change of heart in his views of this match. Stated Kasparov: “While writing the book I did a lot of research – analysing the games with modern computers, also soul-searching – and I changed my conclusions. I am not writing any love letters to IBM, but my respect for the Deep Blue team went up, and my opinion of my own play, and Deep Blue’s play, went down. Today you can buy a chess engine for your laptop that will beat Deep Blue quite easily”.
This particular game was the first in a match of six held in Philadelphia. Kasparov rebounded in the following five games, fighting the computer to two draws and three victories, winning the overall match. Deep Blue’s win was seen as very symbolically significant, a sign that artificial intelligence was catching up to human intelligence, and could defeat one of humanity’s great intellectual champions. Later analysis tended to play down Kasparov’s loss as a result of uncharacteristically bad play on Kasparov’s part, and play down the intellectual value of chess as a game which can be defeated by brute force.
(Photo credit: Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images).