Return to Timeline of the History of Computers
Computer Is World Chess Champion
Garry Kasparov (b. 1963)
“Ever since Alan Turing wrote the first computer chess program in 1950, computer scientists (and the general public) had viewed proficiency at chess as a litmus test for machines’ intelligence. Machines, the thinking went, would be truly intelligent if they could beat a human at chess. When that happened, the challenge then subtly changed: would computers ever be able to beat every human at chess, even a grand master?
That happened nearly 50 years later in 1996, when IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Kasparov and Deep Blue played two matches—the first took place in February 1996 in Philadelphia. Kasparov lost two games to Deep Blue but still won the match. The rematch occurred a year later in May 1997, when Kasparov lost to Deep Blue with a final score of 3.5 to 2.5 (one game was a draw). In an unusual twist, Deep Blue made an unexpected play during game two of the second match, rattling Kasparov and throwing him off his strategy. Kasparov did not know what to make of the move and considered it a sign of superior intelligence. While counterintuitive, Kasparov’s interpretation of Deep Blue’s capabilities highlights the power and weakness of relying on human intuition when playing games of skill.
In fact, Deep Blue’s advantage was brute force, pure and simple. Deep Blue was really a massively parallel program coded in C, running on a UNIX cluster, and capable of computing 200 million possible board positions each second. Deep Blue’s “evaluative function,” which decided which board positions were better, was based on assessing four human-programmed variables: material, the value of each piece; position, the number of squares that buffer a player’s piece from attack; king safety, a number that represents how safe the king is, given his location on the board and the position of the other pieces; and tempo, the success of a player advancing his or her position over time. Given these factors and the relatively constrained size of the board, chess became a “quantifiable” equation for Deep Blue. As such, the computer can win by simply seeking the best board positions—something it can do faster, and better, than any human.”
SEE ALSO Computer Beats Master at Go (2016)
Viewers watch world chess champion Garry Kasparov on a television monitor at the start of the sixth and final match against IBM’s Deep Blue computer in New York.