Interplay’s 1988 video game Battle Chess was one of my first memorable interactions with computer chess.
The chess engine was impressive, but what stands out today is the fact that chess pieces could move around the board — and kick the absolute hell out of each other with simplified graphical glory.
Deep Blue debuted its chess-playing skills in 1996, and lost to Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in Philadelphia. The computer’s victory, the matches everyone thinks about when they hear Deep Blue, happened in 1997, over the course of six games.
The success of Deep Blue sparked a chess revolution, and may have done wonders for the future of artificial intelligence development. Its victory also kicked off a conspiracy theory, which is still often repeated on forums like Reddit, Quora, and Chess.com.
Did IBM somehow rig the match, and ensure that Kasparov couldn’t win against the computer?
Geek Native decided to take a closer look at the Kasparov Conspiracy, including where the story started — and if anything about it was actually true.
Garry Kasparov is to chess, what Jimmy Page is to rock, or Robert Johnson is to the blues. There’s no talking about the topic, without mentioning the names of these key-players at some point in the discussion.
Kasparov is, still, one of the world’s greatest players and thinkers in the world of chess. Russian-born, he was somewhat of a chess prodigy — and from 1999 to 2013, Kasparov had the highest FIDE rating in chess until this was surpassed by Magnus Carlsen.
He’s retired from chess tournaments today, but remains involved in chess-related activities, lectures, and human rights advocacy.
Sometimes, he takes time to deliver his comments about politicians who pose for photographs behind a chess-board without them checking if the board makes any sense.
I’m sure he’s tired of talking about Deep Blue, after countless interviews post-90s — and an entire book about chess programs.
According to the official IBM resources, Deep Blue was first developed as a successor to a more basic artificial intelligence called ChipTest.
Deep Thought was considered the name, but Deep Blue sounded like the better name — and apparently, using the name Deep Thought at the time would have been too close to a certain adult film that was also popular during this historical period.
It was the 90s, before people realized just how bad the internet can really make things; [Just look at how public opinion to name Mountain Dew’s new flavor turned out thanks to the web.]
According to the Computer History Museum, the computer we all know and love as Deep Blue was a conversion of an IBM supercomputer: the RS/6000 SP2.
The name wouldn’t catch on today, but the processing power changed computing forever. Deep Blue was capable of computing 200 million positions each second — can you name a single fucking thing at that speed?
Today’s supercomputers are faster. Summit can compute 200 quadrillion calculations in a second, according to Live Science
Let’s keep in mind that, at the time, nobody had ever seen a computer quite as fast as Deep Blue.
The movie Hackers dropped in 1995, and people were still pretty paranoid about what computers could do to humans.
Today, people aren’t paranoid enough.
We have ChatGPT and sex robots now.
The Conspiracy Theory
The famous 1997 Kasparov-Deep Blue match marked a turning point in human history: a computer had beaten a human at something. Not just any human, but one of the best players in the game at that point in time.
It’s like seeing a match where Caster Semeya races against a Roomba Vacuum… And the vacuum wins.
You’d worry about the technology for a while, and the internet conspiracy theories about how smart vacuum cleaners will take over the world would take less than ten minutes from the event to start up.
Where did the story start?
Chess and artificial intelligence have a long history — one that started long before we had Bill Gates, computers, or sex robots.
Before there was IBM’s Deep Blue, there was a 1700s chess automaton called Mechanical Turk. [Yes, it’s what Amazon named their crowdsourcing platform centuries after this, now let’s move on.]
Mechanical Turk was advertised as artificial intelligence of an early type.
This machine, called an automaton, could play chess by itself.
This didn’t go so well.
Mechanical Turk wasn’t running with clockwork, but had a human hidden inside the system.
It means that the Mechanical Turk could only ever play as good as the man [or woman] behind the curtain: people were so amazed that an automaton could appear to play chess, that they didn’t give a damn whether it was playing good chess.
There are also a lot of questions about bathroom breaks, and how they snacked during a day on the job: let’s leave those for another article.
The Turk made its way to various owners, until it eventually settled at the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia. It was destroyed when a fire ran from the National Theater to the Museum.
You’ll notice that where Mechanical Turk’s life ended, is where IBM’s Deep Blue began.
You’ll also notice that little details like these, do not make conspiracy theories any more true.
It’s like saying that you bought cheese and cola from the same store, and that all cheese must contain cola for this reason.
Did IBM cheat Kasparov?
The short answer isn’t as exciting as the internet might want it to be.
There appears to be no overwhelming evidence that IBM or Deep Blue engaged in any ‘foul play’ or illegal moves at all in either the 1996 or 1997 games against Kasparov.
According to a podcast interview with Kasparov, he’s laid the topic to rest a long fucking time ago.
‘I am not writing any love letters to IBM, but my respect for the Deep Blue team went up, and my opinion of my own play, and Deep Blue’s play, went down. Today you can buy a chess engine for your laptop that will beat Deep Blue quite easily.’
Deep Blue Today
The Deep Blue system today, has been dismantled — and made part of computer history forever.
One section lies at the National Museum of American History. Another rests at the Computer History Museum, since the year 1997.
Chess computing has come a long way since then. Modern chess computers are so advanced, that one broke a seven-year-old’s fingers just the other day.
On second thought, machine learning might still need some serious work.
Deep Blue might have beaten Kasparov, but at least he’s never screwed up that badly during a match.
One more question: does Deep Blue dream of electric sheep?
Alex J. Coyne is a journalist, writer, and regular seat-filler at various tabletop games. He has written for CollegeHumor, Great Bridge Links, Funds for Writers, Bridge Base Online, and more. His website is the best place to find him for samples, writing projects, and more.
🤖AI Disclosure. Software helped create images in this post. Geek Native's AI Content Policy.
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