Man versus Machine
My personal viewpoint

There has been a lot of talk lately in the news about chess ever since last year when Gary Kasparov was challenged by the IBM chess programming team to a series of chess matches against their creation, Deep Blue. Many people feel that the human brain is one of the most complex and a sign of the ultimate achievement by God. To play a dumb machine and have it possibly beat the best current player in the world (and some would argue perhaps the best player of all time) would be the worst thing that could ever happen to us.

I have been working with computers ever since my senior year in high school way back in 1980. I have always seen computers as tools that people can use to make everyday life much easier to manage. No longer do we have to use old fashioned typewriters to type out our letters or have to worry about making typing mistakes due to the fact that most modern word processors are getting more and more sophisticated with new features that making the creative process of writing easier. We no longer have to worry about using too much white out which would distract the reader from whatever it is that we wish for them to review. Computers removed the need for book ledgers as well since we can now use Excel or Lotus to accomplish the very same task. If we need to send a letter to a loved one, we no longer have to wait for the postal service to deliver it. Now with electronic mail, you can get a message to someone within a few minutes or in a worse case scenario, perhaps a few hours.

With all the wonderful things that computers have given us, it really bothers me that we are now using computers for what I consider to be an evil thing. To prove that machines are better than man. Personally, I don't like it at all. Machines are supposed to be helping us, not challenging us. I know that to Deep Blue, it is nothing more than a series of numbers to be crunched. It doesn't know what it is truly doing. It is a very sophisticated program that allows it to accomplish a task that for a long time no one thought would ever be possible. Sure, computers can beat lower ranked players. Mine beats me all the time with no problem (although I am learning more and more as I play it and thus it gets harder for it to beat me as I play with it more and more. I even beat it once at its highest setting but it took me about one hour of playing time to it's 5 minutes). But beating our very best? That I could never tolerate.

Even worse in my opinion is some of the attitudes of some of the IBM programmers involved in the Deep Blue project. They are talking about how computers will be used to solve problems that man himself can not solve. They must be both arrogant and out of their minds. Like the 4th Doctor Who (my favorite) said,

Computers are nothing more than very efficient processors of information. They take information into themselves through various means and process that information according to a certain algorithm that we call a computer program. Since computers can not think for themselves yet (and I hope they never do else the stuff that happened in the Terminator movies might come true), they are not capable of solving any problem that we ourselves can not. They need to be programmed in order to accomplish any task given to them. If we can program in a solution into the machine, then there is no problem that can not be solved by a human being given enough time, is there? This is why I can't stand the IBM team. They need to be reminded that computers are nothing more than high speed calculators.

Well, you have now by personal thoughts on the matter. I hope that everyone is enjoying the matches between Kasparov and DB (Deep Blue) so far. I know I have enjoyed them and all the wonderful comments from everyone starting from the GM's and all the way down to players at my level. It is a learning experience to see how players of all different chess abilities view the same board in different ways. I hope that Kasparov can prevail against Deep Blue just like he did last year. I felt that the machine had an unfair advantage over Kasparov last year since the machine was able to study games that Kasparov had previously played in but Kasparov was not permitted to study games played by Deep Blue because IBM was worried that Kasparov would be able to find a weakness in the machine.

If I had been in the very same situation as Gary was, I would have insisted on being allowed to view previous practice games played by Deep Blue and strongly demanded to view such games or I would have refused to play it at all. By the way, this is not a admission of defeat to machines. Today, chess masters used database programs like Chessbase to study their opponents and get an idea from the games that they have played to get an understanding of  their style of play. Emmanual Lasker, one of the great chess players of all time used to make inferior moves on the chess board because he knew that particular opponent had problems with particular situations that would arise in chess. He was using a technique in chess called "playing the man, and not the board".

It really helps Chess Masters in their preparation for their upcoming matches to be able to view games that have been played by their opponents. Given the paranoid attitude of the IBM team, they must really be worried that they have still not found all the bugs in the software for Deep Blue. It would be a real embarrassment to the IBM chess team since supposedly they have taken Deep Blue to chess school for a year and a half to try to remove all of the bugs from the earlier version that Kasparov beat 4-2 last year. They even had a Grandmaster (Joel Benjamin) working with the programmers this time to see how Deep Blue evaluates positions and tried to strengthen it's style of play. Certainly, I give them credit for improving the program and we might all very well benefit from that type of computing power sometime in the near future but until DB beats either Kasparov or whoever might be the next human champion, humans at the highest level of chess will always be superior.

Your thoughts and comments would be most appreciated. Email your comments to me at the following Internet email address:

Go Gary!

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