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Machine Finally Crushes Man
World welcomes indisputably inhuman chess champion
Richard C.S. Kinne (kinnerc)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-06 06:38 (KST)   
At 7:40 p.m. Tuesday evening, local time, in Bonn, Germany a machine beat the best that human beings had to offer in terms of chess competition. World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik resigned to computer program Deep Fritz in the sixth game of the World Chess Challenge match. The final score was: Humans - 2, Computers - 4.

Computers playing chess as we know it today started in the very early 1950s. Back then computer chess theory was viewed as a path to artificial intelligence, and some computer scientists had high hopes that both master computer chess players and intelligent machines were only a few years off. They turned out to be half right.

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While prospects for what we would call an intelligent machine dimmed and stalled, computer chess moved steadily and quickly forward. A computer program called "Maniac" in the mid 1950s won the first recorded game against a human being -- a woman who had learned the rules just one week before.

In 1985 right after gaining the World Chess Championship crown from his countryman Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov played a simultaneous exhibition against 15 computers. He won all 15 games. At that point in time there were not many that were convinced that humans had anything to worry about in the chess arena.

That all changed in a little over 10 years when World Champion Kasparov played a computer called Deep Blue for the second time under regular tournament match conditions. Kasparov, the most powerful chess player in history at that time, lost the match 3.5-2.5. Deep Blue was a huge, special-purpose mainframe computer built especially for chess playing ability. It beat Kasparov using pure, raw computing power being able to evaluate 200 million chess positions per second.

Three years later the human title of World Chess Champion passed to Vladimir Kramnik, another of Kasparov's countrymen, and the human chess battle with computers continued. The front in that battle had changed, though. Computer scientists had beaten the last World Champion on raw computing power. They realized that they had the game on that front. Now the war was to improve the software.

In October of 2002 Kramnik and a new program called Deep Fritz. Fritz, running on an 8-processor Compaq computer played the World Champion to a draw, each participant getting two points.

The latest match between man and machine was played in Bonn in the German National Art Gallery between Kramnik and Deep Fritz. This time, however, the program was running on a duel Intel Core 2 Duo 5160 system, something that might be available off the shelf to a regular consumer. Indeed, you can buy the Deep Fritz program commercially.

The match was set at six games. The first side to gain more than three points would be declared the winner. Kramnik would get $500 000 if he lost the match, but a million dollars if he won.

In world class chess there are a multitude of drawn games with each side getting a half point for their trouble. As games go on at this level the players themselves realize that nothing decisive can be done and they agree to a draw. This was the situation for the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th games in this match. Game Two turned out to be memorably -- and horribly -- different.

Kramnik, proving he was as human as the next man, stunned the chess world by missing a mate-in-one that Deep Fritz was threatening on move 35. Deep Fritz, playing White, played 34. NxRf8. The computer's analysis showed a forced draw -- a situation where neither player would have the pieces or situation to force a win of the game. This is the situation that Deep Fritz was playing for. If it was allowed to, its next move would be 35. Qh7, mate. But it셲 analysis, as well as the analysis of everyone else in the room and on the Internet, expected Kramnik to play 34. Kg8, a simple move that would defend against this obvious threat.

Final Position for Game Two
©2006 RAG Aktien
Kramnik spent a few minutes looking over the board and then shocked the world, and Deep Fritz, by playing 34. Qe3. There was nothing preventing Deep Fritz from playing 35. Qh7, mate, so it did, winning the game and leaping a point ahead in the standings.

While the computer had no problems just being turned off and turned back on again for the next game, everyone wondered how this devastating lost would affect Kramnik. Fortunately for humanity, Game 3 was a calming draw, Kramnik showing the world he was back on his feet. In Game 4, Deep Fritz had the White pieces again and played very well. Kramnik was forced to eek out a draw by building a fortress around his King that the computer couldn't quite penetrate. Game 5, the last for Kramnik with the White pieces, was played to a sharp draw.

Game 6 was critical for humanity. Kramnik remained a point down going into the game holding the Black pieces. Tradition dictated that a drawn match would go to the reigning champion, perhaps, but in order to not lose the match outright, Kramnik had to win Game 6. He'd not won a single game in the match up to that point and having the Black pieces theoretically put him at a disadvantage going in. Ultimately the disadvantage proved too much.

While chess is not "solved," per se, it can now be said that machines, or computer programs, can now beat anyone on the planet consistently. The dream of creating an unbeatable chess playing machine has effectively been realized. While it can be argued that computers don't play chess like humans, it can no longer be argued that humans can beat them. Indeed, running the current Deep Fritz program on the special purpose hardware that Deep Blue used years before would leave any chess player with no chance at all.

Game theory is looking to move on. It's next sights have been set on the ancient oriental game of Go where, currently, any computer playing the game can be wiped off the board by a strong child.

The human World Chess Championship will continue unabated. Humans will continue to thrill at the competition of other humans in this ancient game. In fact, Kramnik is due to defend his title in a World Championship tournament in November of 2007. But in the back of our mind we'll now know that the real World Champion is that small box in the corner humming while analyzing the moves of its inferiors.

The match was sponsored by RAG Aktiengesellschaft.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Richard C.S. Kinne

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