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  • Megan Mae Westwood
    4 June 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Chess is a brutal and complex game, participated in by people all over the world and at all levels. It demands patience, good preparation and psychological strength, as well as the ability to visualise and analyse countless possible outcomes under pressure. Application of all of these skills is what makes a champion at chess.

    In February 1996, the chess grandmaster and defending world champion, Garry Kasparov, was defeated by a computer named ‘Deep Blue’. This became the most famous human–machine game in history. The match marked the victory of a group of scientists at Carnegie Mellon, backed by technology giant IBM. They had worked tirelessly to develop a machine that could defeat the best chess player in the world. In his book, Kasparov talks of his famous match against Deep Blue and its complexity, in the sense that it was not an ordinary chess match.

    Kasparov, who possessed an obvious raw talent and passion for the game from a young age, won the world championship in chess in 1985 and ferociously defended his title in the following years. However, as he was growing in knowledge and experience, so too were the computers of the time. The age of computers was well and truly underway and groups of scientists were working on machines that would become players. In this book, Kasparov gives a detailed timeline of events during this period, writing of his life’s work as well as the advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) and how it led to his famous and inevitable defeat.

    The length of a game of chess extends far beyond the time actually spent against your opponent at the board. It can take weeks or even months of preparation, by the player and their team, to get to know the style and tendencies of their upcoming opponent. This training is one of Kasparov’s main strengths.

    Matches and tournaments are mentally draining and physically exhausting, and can leave players bewildered by their own decisions. When a computer plays chess, it does so very differently to a human. It searches a wide database and applies Type A or Type B tactics. Type A is commonly known as “brute force”, where the computer scans a vast database in search of the remaining moves it can make to win, which can be very slow. Type B minimises the search algorithm to find the best next move – this method is known as “intelligent search”. It is widely acknowledged that preparation is often key to a successful chess game. In this respect, a human player could never compare to a computer. Science writer Malcom Gladwell agrees with this: “The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made to manifest”.

    The harsh reality of a human vs. machine game is that the computer will never tire, or experience the same psychological strain that is felt by human players. It could even be argued that such a match is unfair. However, although Deep Blue was intelligent, it was merely artificially intelligent. How, then, could it beat a human who — as well as logic — has creativity and intuition on his side? Not to mention years of dedication and experience. The decisions made by a machine are a consequence of algorithms whereas a human will, Kasparov believes, “seek the truth in the heart of every position”. Discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of human and machine traits runs throughout the book and provokes questions regarding just how close AI can come to thinking like a human.

    In general, advancements in technology are fast and continuous, as described by Moore’s Law. This observation, that the number of transistors placed in a microchip doubles each year, essentially means that the processing power of a computer will double every year. Drawing on his own experiences with technology, Kasparov briefly comments on its relatively frightening future, comparing what we can use it for today compared to 20 years ago. In particular, he discusses commercial technology and its highly addictive nature. Information is at our fingertips and makes us more powerful as human beings when we use these incredible tools properly. But when machines can do what we can do, we might not necessarily need to anymore. An example of this being the use of self- service checkouts making the process of payment more efficient with very little need for human interference.

    Kasparov’s opinion on the rapid advancement in technology is generally optimistic for the future, but he argues both sides of the case – that advancements in AI could be beneficial and detrimental to society and to the world of chess. The book would not have suffered from further discussion of this theme, and could have been improved by exploring possibilities in AI and technology over the next 30 years.

    The book is addressed to a wide although non-specific adult audience, but is structurally poor. Many events in Kasparov’s own life and others related to the field are mentioned unchronologically, making it difficult for the reader to put together the timeline of machine vs. human chess that he is trying to describe. The book provides a lengthy discussion on the very relevant topic of AI but applies it mainly to chess, drawn from Kasparov’s own personal experience. As a result, there is not a lot of variance from discussion of his own successes and failings in chess, making this book suitable only for avid fans and players of the game.

    Unquestionably, if you’re seeking a book about AI and its future, this isn’t the one for you unless you’re a chess enthusiast. Although both topics are touched on and tied together in an engaging way, there are better books that cover each topic separately. For those drawn to chess, How Life Imitates Chess, again by Kasparov, would be a much better fit. The introduction to Deep Thinking hints at giving the reader a better insight into AI, but is instead ultimately an autobiography by Kasparov. Alternatively, Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark will surely be better suited to discuss the topic of AI and will more than likely leave you with more questions than you began with.

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