10 May 1997
2001: Part II
In February 1996, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov defeated IBM's premier chess-playing computer, Deep Blue, in an "historical" match. But he lost the first game. He commented that the supercomputer did not become "rattled" when its king was in jeopardy, as a human player might. Kasparov decoded the meaning of this, and defeated the machine in all subsequent games. Duh.
Now they're back at it. IBM has a new RS/6000 SP for Kasparov to battle, and once again pundits are declaring that the supreme reign of the human brain may be over. Duh.
Deep Blue is just an information handling device. It's not artificial intelligence, it's a calculator programmed to play chess. This danger was forewarned in 1968. HAL9000 (in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey) was a sophisticated information handling, and systems control, computer. HAL was designed and developed with an audio interface which recreated human-like behavior to make it easier for humans to command and interact with it. HAL represented the highest achievement of computer design: a machine that acts human.
But HAL was programmed to hide its knowledge of the Discovery's true mission (to find, identify and make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence) while maintaining an assertion of a "perfect operating record" of accurately assimilating and processing information,... and so it developed a psychosis, just like a human it was programmed to emulate would. HAL coldly murdered 4 of the 5 astronauts as a preemptive tactic when Discover mission commander Dave Bowman discovered its subterfuge. Just as Moonwatcher had done 4 million years earlier, HAL "learned" to kill to protect itself. And therein lies Arthur C. Clarke's and Kubrick's warning ... a computer that learns (the HAL feature, or heuristically-programmed algorithmic logic, was a "self-programming," learning component of the command processor) could eventually learn the same negative attributes that humans possess, including the capacity for secretiveness and murder.
Now we have Deep Blue presented as the latest threat to our dominion of intelligent supremacy. But the fact is, Deep Blue is a box that's programmed to play chess as well as, or better than, a human. How do you test it? Put a grandmaster in front of it to troubleshoot it. Duh.
So Garry Kasparov sits down to provide our best benchmark of this effort. How the computer performs against Kasparov tells us nothing more than an indication of how "well" the RS/6000 SP is designed. It says nothing about our intellect, or our creativity,... only about the ingenuity of IBM's engineers. You see, as Joel Achenbach writes at www.washingtonpost.com, Deep Blue isn't aware that it's playing chess, no more than a thermometer is aware of the weather. It neither celebrates, nor bemoans, its performance. At a processing speed of something like 200 million possible moves per second (compared with Kasparov's 2 per second), it can sling data more efficiently -- but never as effectively. The human mind exhibits creativity, selectivity, self-awareness, self-doubt, and emotion. Kasparov can be tired, excited, celebratory, all dependent on a million various influences. Deep Blue, for all its brute processing power, can never learn, can never realize it's playing a genius, and can never apply a philosophical perspective to its actions. HAL9000 never displayed regret or remorse at its murderous actions; but it perfectly mimicked fear when Bowman "disconnected" it, in a chilling and resonant scene.
IBM can produce all the RS/6000s it can afford to. But we will never have another Kasparov. He is unique, he is valuable, and he will never be "beaten" by a computer.
Moral of the story: "It's not the computer; it's not the network; it's not the content. It's the human being, stupid."
-- D.B. Spalding
D.B. Spalding is a cross-media “infopreneur”: columnist, reviewer, producer, consultant and online content developer. He writes frequently about music, film, computing and the mass- and multimedia. Many of his articles can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.korova.com.
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