In man's ultimate battle with machines, is there any doubt about who will win?

February 16, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

Garry Kasparov, human genius, is locked in a death struggle (OK, a chess match; same thing) with a computer. The six-game series is tied, with two to play. And should K-- am I wrong here? -- a machine.

You know what they always said. They always said that a computer may be able to do three trillion calculations a second, but it could never paint like van Gogh or, even if it had ears, chop either of them off.

There's no mystery to a computer, they said. It's just a fancy machine.

In fact, within the scientific community, there is something called the James Brown Theorem, which holds that computers may be clever but they have no soul. (Say It Loud, I'm Black Vinyl and I'm Proud?).

Humans have the real, important kinds of intelligence.

For example, we may not be able to multiply 6 times 8 without a calculator, but humans possess what we call intuition. With enough intuition, and enough time, you might figure out 6 times 8 is somewhere in the 30-to-60 range. Isn't that close enough? Actually, intuitively, I don't think it is.

And how about this: Show me the computer that can plug itself in.

That's all well and good. But this particular computer -- called Deep Blue, which sounds more like a porno star than a megabyte king -- may need somebody to push the "power" button but it is more than holding its own with a certifiable human genius in the ultimate game of strategy.

Does this surprise you?

I mean, really surprise you?

How many of you out there have ever lost to a computer? Keep those hands up. I'm still counting. Myself, I'm lucky if I can break even with a toaster, and we don't even want to bring up the VCR.

Humans believe they're intelligent. It was a human who invented the computer after all. It's that intelligence that put us on top of the food chain.

But humans aren't getting any smarter. Maybe you saw the recent study of high school seniors, in which 90 percent identified Greenland as a miniature-golf complex. Computers, meanwhile, are getting smarter every minute.

Pretty soon, all they'll need us for is to plug in the software and then just sit by, as if we were sort of a pet dog, which wouldn't be that bad unless the topic of neutering comes up.

Kasparov, however, is nobody's lap dog. He's the bad boy of chess. He's not just a genius, he's an intimidator. He's the John McEnroe of his sport.

He doesn't just beat you; he scares you to death.

The computer, though, shows no fear, despite what you may think from having seen "2001: A Space Odyssey," in which Hal, the computer, famously has a nervous breakdown. This is man's attempt to give human dimension to a machine, in much the same way that the Greeks gave human dimensions (lust, avarice, greed, et al) to their gods.

In "2001," man and computer struggle for man's soul. It could be seen as the undercard for this chess match.

Deep Blue may be as devious as Hal. After Kasparov made a decisive move in his last match, the computer crashed. This is what we might call a ploy. You could almost see Deep Blue hiding a smile. Anyone who knows computers understands they crash only when it most suits them, which is when it least suits you. Put your entire novel with no copy on the computer, and we're looking at a crash like nobody's seen since the Hindenburg.

Anyway, the computer crashes, delaying the match, and Kasparov cracks. He calms down only after talking to -- hold onto your seats here -- his mother. Bad-boy Garry needed his mommy.

A computer doesn't need his mommy. He just needs a programmer (collaborator?) and a battery pack.

You know, I sometimes have this dream that there has been a cataclysmic event in which everyone in the world is dead except me and any convenient supermodel. It's up to us to bring back the human race. And everything's going fine (what could be bad about this situation?) until we thought we might like some food. No microwave, and we don't know how to make one. No CD player. No cable.

What I'm saying is, even if we had a clicker, there was nothing to click on. All technical knowledge would be gone, lost forever.

Actually, it may not be a dream. It might be a computer video game.

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