Man vs. machine Not just a game: If the computer, Deep Blue, beats Garry Kasparov in this six-game match, will the chess champ be guilty of letting down the whole human race?

February 12, 1996|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- In a near-empty darkened room here, the world changed this weekend, maybe more than a little.

The evolution that Garry Kasparov feared, and had set himself against, was realized: history's greatest chess player was defeated in the first of a six-game match by an artificial intelligence, the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

He did come back in yesterday's second game and force Deep Blue to resign on the 73rd move, after a grueling 5-hour-and-40-minute battle in which Mr. Kasparov had the advantage of playing the white pieces and held it throughout.

But, until Saturday, the 32-year-old Russian had never been defeated by a machine except under rapid-play rules, which favor the calculating power of silicon over the human advantage of imagination, intuition and psychology.

And most experts in this game of poetical logic had predicted that Mr. Kasparov would turn back the challenge of this machine, which can review 100 million moves in a split second and 50 billion in three minutes.

He can, of course, still win the match. The next four games will be played starting tomorrow at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The winner will take home $400,000, the loser $100,000.

Mr. Kasparov, who left the hall without comment Saturday, spoke to reporters after yesterday's victory, looking drained but exultant. He congratulated the IBM team that created Deep Blue.

"Now, for the first time, we see in computer chess that quantity has become quality," he said. "For the first time, we are playing with something that has its own intelligence."

He admitted that Saturday "was not a good day," and said he believed he could have done better.

Mr. Kasparov takes chess-playing computers very seriously, and not just because he was beaten in blitz chess -- a five minute version of the game -- by another computer two years ago. He is seriously wary of the implications of their potential beyond chess.

He revealed that the day before the match began, when he spoke of "the growing fear among people that the computer could threaten our dignity," which is to say the preeminence of the human mind.

The Association for Computing Machinery Chess Challenge is the first major match between a computer and a human being under tournament rules: three minutes per move, 40 moves having to be made within two hours.

The more measured pace allows human players to exploit their )) advantages. They are able to discern what is important to the outcome of a game, to prioritize, to dismiss entire lines of attack and defense as fruitless. The computer must look at every single possibility.

"In chess, there is strategy and tactics," said Allen Kaufman, executive director of the American Chess Foundation, and a grandmaster. "In tactics, computers usually win. In strategy, humans have the advantage."

This was the advantage Mr. Kasparov was expected to press against Deep Blue: his ability to see far into the match, to understand the long range outcome of every maneuver, and possibly, by introducing a new line of play, to draw the computer into a pattern of error.

But Deep Blue made no mistakes in its first encounter with Mr. Kasparov. It pressed the champion relentlessly. Slightly more than three hours after the game began, Mr. Kasparov, hopelessly boxed in, resigned before making his 37th move.

He rose, shook hands with Feng-Hsiung Hsu, chief designer of Deep Blue, and left the platform. Dr. Hsu was there to enter Mr. Kasparov's moves into the terminal and execute the computer's responses.

There was some self-congratulatory applause among the small group of IBM research scientists who tend to Deep Blue, but it was restrained. C. J. Tan, IBM's principal representative, was cautious at the outset of the match: "I think right now it's about 50-50, very close. Mr. Kasparov is the chess genius of the century."

In the nearby commentary room, where some 300 chess aficionados had gathered to watch, the disappointment was evident in the silence. There was a sinking awareness, perhaps unjustified, that it was not just a man who had been set down, but the species itself.

Protested Murray Campbell, one of Deep Blue's designers, "We're human beings, too."

Saturday's crowd had watched the slow disintegration of Mr. Kasparov's position from the mid-game to its end. Mr. Kasparov, normally the picture of cool control, revealed his own decline on a monster-size television screen.

By game's end, he was in shirtsleeves, and his face reflected the turmoil of mind, the awareness of crisis that was overtaking him, as the time allotted to him slipped away, and the computer, with plenty of its own time left, tightened the noose.

Mr. Kasparov lost the first game to Deep Blue because he was human, and did an impulsive, human thing: he unleashed his black pieces in a sudden, audacious attack against the white's strong pawn position.

Maurice Ashley, an international master, saw it as an attempt to bluff the machine. But, he said, "The machine doesn't believe in psychological intimidation."

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