Watson. HAL. A.I.
February 16th, 2011

Back in 1997, Charles Krauthammer wrote what might be the best piece done on Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov. It’s absolutely worth revisiting today. Sample:

On May 4 in New York City, a computer demonstrated subtlety and nuance in chess. A more general intelligence will require a level of complexity that might take decades more of advances in computer speed and power. (Not bad, actually, considering that it took nature using its raw materials three billion years to produce intelligence in us.) And it will take perhaps a few centuries more for computers to reach the final, terrifying point of self- awareness, contingency, and autonomous will.

It is, of course, a very long way to go from a chess game on the 35th floor of the Equitable Center to sharing the planet with logic monsters descended distantly from Deep Blue. But we’ve had our glimpse. For me, the scariest moment of the match occurred when Murray Campbell, one of the creators of Deep Blue, was asked about a particular move the computer made. He replied, ” The system searches through many billions of possibilities before it makes its move decision, and to actually figure out exactly why it made its move is impossible. It takes forever. You can look at various lines and get some ideas, but you can never know for sure exactly why it did what it did.”

You can never know for sure why it did what it did. The machine has already reached such a level of complexity that its own creators cannot trace its individual decisions in a mechanistic A to B to C way. It is simply too complicated. Deep Blue’s actions have already eclipsed the power of its own makers to fully fathom. Why did Blue reposition its king’s rook on move 23 of Game Two? Murray Campbell isn’t sure. Why did Adam eat from the apple? Does his maker know?

We certainly know the rules, the equations, the algorithms, the database by which Deep Blue decides. But its makers have put in so many and so much at such levels of complexity — so many equations to be reconciled and to ” collide” at once — that we get a result that already has the look of contingency. Indeed, one of the most intriguing and unnerving aspects of Deep Blue is that it does not always make the same move in a given position.

  1. AK-47 February 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    That’s a great piece, JVL. Also very much worth reading is the article Garry Kasparov did for the NYRB: