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Kasparov Loses to Deep Blue: The First Time a Human Chess Player Loses to a Computer Under Tournament Conditions


On May 11, 1997 Gary Kasparov, sometimes regarded as the greatest chess player of all time, resigned 19 moves into Game 6 against Deep Blue, an IBM RS/6000 SP supercomputer capable of calculating 200 million chess positions per second. This was the first time that a human world chess champion lost to a computer under tournament conditions.

The event, which took place at the Equitable Center in New York, was broadcast live from IBM's website via a Java viewer, and became the world's record "Net event" at the time.

"Since the emergence of artificial intelligence and the first computers in the late 1940s, computer scientists compared the performance of these 'giant brains' with human minds, and gravitated to chess as a way of testing the calculating abilities of computers. The game is a collection of challenging problems for minds and machines, but has simple rules, and so is perfect for such experiments.

"Over the years, many computers took on many chess masters, and the computers lost.

"IBM computer scientists had been interested in chess computing since the early 1950s. In 1985, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, Feng-hsiung Hsu, began working on his dissertation project: a chess playing machine he called ChipTest. A classmate of his, Murray Campbell, worked on the project, too, and in 1989, both were hired to work at IBM Research. There, they continued their work with the help of other computer scientists, including Joe Hoane, Jerry Brody and C. J. Tan. The team named the project Deep Blue. The human chess champion won in 1996 against an earlier version of Deep Blue; the 1997 match was billed as a 'rematch.'

"The champion and computer met at the Equitable Center in New York, with cameras running, press in attendance and millions watching the outcome. The odds of Deep Blue winning were not certain, but the science was solid. The IBMers knew their machine could explore up to 200 million possible chess positions per second. The chess grandmaster won the first game, Deep Blue took the next one, and the two players drew the three following games. Game 6 ended the match with a crushing defeat of the champion by Deep Blue." 

"The AI crowd, too, was pleased with the result and the attention, but dismayed by the fact that Deep Blue was hardly what their predecessors had imagined decades earlier when they dreamed of creating a machine to defeat the world chess champion. Instead of a computer that thought and played chess like a human, with human creativity and intuition, they got one that played like a machine, systematically evaluating 200 million possible moves on the chess board per second and winning with brute number-crunching force. As Igor Aleksander, a British AI and neural networks pioneer, explained in his 2000 book, How to Build a Mind:  

" 'By the mid-1990s the number of people with some experience of using computers was many orders of magnitude greater than in the 1960s. In the Kasparov defeat they recognized that here was a great triumph for programmers, but not one that may compete with the human intelligence that helps us to lead our lives.'

"It was an impressive achievement, of course, and a human achievement by the members of the IBM team, but Deep Blue was only intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better" (Gary Kasparov, "The Chess Master and the Computer," The New York Review of Books, 57, February 11, 2010).

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