Daniel Dennett on chess, Kasparov, and Deep Blue

For our 1996 book of future forecasts, Brad Wieners and I asked chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov when he thought a computer might beat him or another human chess master. Kasparov predicted it wouldn't happen until at least 2010, or "maybe never." A year later, he lost to IBM's Deep Blue. On the tenth anniversary of Kasparov's defeat by a machine, philosopher Daniel Dennet wrote an essay on what the match might mean to our understanding of intelligence, human and machine. From Technology Review:

The best computer chess is well nigh indistinguishable from the best human chess, except for one thing: computers don't know when to accept a draw. Computers–at least currently existing computers–can't be bored or embarrassed, or anxious about losing the respect of the other players, and these are aspects of life that human competitors always have to contend with, and sometimes even exploit, in their games. Offering or accepting a draw, or resigning, is the one decision that opens the hermetically sealed world of chess to the real world, in which life is short and there are things more important than chess to think about. This boundary crossing can be simulated with an arbitrary rule, or by allowing the computer's handlers to step in. Human players often try to intimidate or embarrass their human opponents, but this is like the covert pushing and shoving that goes on in soccer matches. The imperviousness of computers to this sort of gamesmanship means that if you beat them at all, you have to beat them fair and square–and isn't that just what ­Kasparov and Kramnik were unable to do?

Silicon machines can now play chess better than any protein machines can. Big deal. This calm and reasonable reaction, however, is hard for most people to sustain. They don't like the idea that their brains are protein machines. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997, many commentators were tempted to insist that its brute-force search methods were entirely unlike the exploratory processes that Kasparov used when he conjured up his chess moves. But that is simply not so. Kasparov's brain is made of organic materials and has an architecture notably unlike that of Deep Blue, but it is still, so far as we know, a massively parallel search engine that has an outstanding array of heuristic pruning techniques that keep it from wasting time on unlikely branches.


Previously on BB:
• Daniel C. Dennett: "Thank Goodness!" Link