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From The Guardian:
Garry Kasparov is arguably the greatest chess player of all time. From 1986 until his retirement in 2005, he was ranked world No 1. He is also a leading human rights activist and is probably close to the top of Vladimir Putin’s hitlist, not least because he tried to run against him for the Russian presidency in 2007. But for people who are interested only in technology, Kasparov is probably best known as the first world champion to be beaten by a machine. In 1997, in a famous six-game match with the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue, he lost 3½-2½.
In the grand scheme of things, losing by one game in a six-game match might not seem much, but at the time it was seen as a major milestone in the long march towards “artificial” intelligence (AI). With the 20/20 vision of hindsight we can view it in a less apocalyptic light: the triumph of Deep Blue was really a victory of brute computing power, clever programming and the ruthless determination of a huge but struggling corporation to exploit the PR advantages of having one of its products do something that would impress the world’s media. But if you believe that AI has something to do with cognition, then Kasparov’s epochal defeat looks like a sideshow.
That it retains its fascination owes more to the popular view of proficiency at chess as a proxy for superintelligence rather than as possession of a very specialised skill. We’ve known for centuries that machines are much better at some things than we are. That’s why Google has become a memory prosthesis for humanity and why we use power drills to anchor bookshelves to walls. So the fact that machines now play better chess than even the greatest grandmasters or that DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated the world Go champion at his particular speciality is interesting – and might even be useful in other areas, such as pattern-matching. But it’s just an incremental step on the same path that Deep Blue trod: the IBM machine used brute-force search; AlphaGo combined even more powerful brute-force search with a couple of neural networks. It’s technically sweet, certainly, but of less than cosmic significance.
Living, as we do, in a time when existential concern about “superintelligence” and robots taking away middle-class jobs, Kasparov has acquired a new significance as the highest-profile (and highest-status) human ever to have been defeated by a machine. (Interestingly, Deep Blue didn’t take away his job: he continued to hold the world chess championship until his defeat by Vladimir Kramnik in 2000. And he continued to win tournaments and maintain his world ranking until he retired in 2005.) So what makes his book fascinating is that he uses it to reflect on what it was like to have been defeated by a machine and on the more general implications of that experience.
The Kasparov v Deep Blue match has been endlessly discussed by chess aficionados in books and articles, but Deep Thinking gives us the inside story of what happened. Even for readers with only a passing interest in chess, it’s an absorbing, page-turning thriller that weaves a personal account of intellectual combat with the wider picture of what it’s like to come up against a powerful corporation that is determined to do whatever it takes to crush opposition. So this isn’t just a tale of human versus machine – it’s also a story about one man versus The Man.
Link to the rest at The Guardian