Monday, January 25, 2010

Garry Kasparov, chess and computers

Check out The Chess Master and the Computer, by former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, from the February 11, 2010 issue of The New York Review of Books. The article is very good -- insightful, reflective, maybe even inspiring. Here are a couple of quotes, but I recommend the whole thing.

On the effect of computers on chess, and the quantification of the world:

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 counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) 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.
And related to that, the dark shadow of the market across innovation and even chess (the article is reviewing a book called Chess Metaphors, by Diego Rasskin-Gutman, hence the beginning phrase):

This is our last chess metaphor, then—a metaphor for how we have discarded innovation and creativity in exchange for a steady supply of marketable products.... 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.