Tech Time Warp: Kasparov vs. Deep Blue kicks off AI debate
It’s a bit jarring to think how rapidly artificial intelligence became a tool of everyday life following the introduction of ChatGPT in November 2022. Now, instead of Googling pasta recipes or travel tips, we’re asking AI, and we’re receiving answers tailored to our personalities. This edition of Tech Time Warp looks at how power of AI is simultaneously awe-inspiring and angst-inducing.
But while widespread use of AI might be relatively new, grappling with one’s feelings about AI is not. Twenty-seven years ago, in February 1996, chess legend Garry Kasparov played the first of two six-game chess matches against Deep Blue, an IBM supercomputer. The series captured the imagination of those intrigued by machine learning and led to new debate about the proper balance between man and machine.
Deep Blue’s impact
The AI employed in the Deep Blue chess matches was far more manual than the generative AI of 2024. A team of IBM programmers collaborated with chess gurus in between games to reprogram Deep Blue. Kasparov won the first match 4-2.
The May 1997 rematch, however, provides the most food for thought in terms of the interplay between human intelligence and computing superpower. In the year between matches, IBM had substantially increased the power of Deep Blue, making it capable of processing up to 200 million chess moves per second. But at the end of the first game of the 1997 rematch, Deep Blue made a bad move—the kind of move a chess expert would only make it set themselves up for significant success later. Kasparov won that first game, but he was spooked.
The incident got in Kasparov’s head. He fixated on the logic of the move—never considering that it might have been caused by a bug. In the next game, Deep Blue made another bad move, and Kasparov decided to forfeit the game. He ended up losing the second series to Deep Blue.
Given this early brush with AI, one might wonder whether Kasparov uses AI today. But his attitude, as shared with Forbes in March 2023, is pragmatic: “AI wins not because it’s smarter than humans, but because it simply makes less mistakes. I never understood this fear of AI—it’s a useful tool that does what we tell it to do. I’m a big proponent of human-machine collaboration.”
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