Garry Kasparov is perhaps the most qualified person on Earth to talk about computers in chess. The most dominant world champion in history--and arguably the game's best player--Kasparov repeatedly battled IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer. He succumbed to the machine in 1997, prompting worldwide worries about the end of human interest in chess. Since retiring in 2005, he's crafted a remarkable second career as an author, anti-Putin activist, and--in this most recent New York Review of Books--a commentator.
Surveying the impact of computers on the game since his defeat, Kasparov sees some benefits to "the supremacy of the chess machines." On the one hand, new strategies, styles of play, and variations on the game have emerged. Yet, he notes, number-crunching supercomputers still haven't achieved that elusive goal--emulating human intelligence.
On the Impact of Computers on Strategy
The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. ... It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn't good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn't been done that way before. It's simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't. Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.
On the Boom of Wunderkinds
The availability of millions of games at one's fingertips in a database is also making the game's best players younger and younger. ... Today's teens, and increasingly pre-teens, can accelerate this process by plugging into a digitized archive of chess information and making full use of the superiority of the young mind to retain it all.
Excelling at chess has long been considered a symbol of more general intelligence. That is an incorrect assumption in my view, as pleasant as it might be...Where so many of these investigations fail on a practical level is by not recognizing the importance of the process of learning and playing chess. The ability to work hard for days on end without losing focus is a talent. The ability to keep absorbing new information after many hours of study is a talent.
On Computer Intelligence
The dreams of creating an artificial intelligence that would engage in an ancient game symbolic of human thought have been abandoned. ... Like so much else in our technology-rich and innovation-poor modern world, chess computing has fallen prey to incrementalism and the demands of the market. Brute-force programs play the best chess, so why bother with anything else? Why waste time and money experimenting with new and innovative ideas when we already know what works? Such thinking should horrify anyone worthy of the name of scientist, but it seems, tragically, to be the norm. Our best minds have gone into financial engineering instead of real engineering, with catastrophic results for both sectors.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.