25 years ago, a computer tamed the king of chess

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Paris (AFP) – Right hand under his chin, his eyes darkening, Garry Kasparov stared at the chessboard one last time, annoyed, before suddenly leaving the table. It’s Thunder Bombing: The Chess King has been beaten by a computer.

On May 11, 1997, the World Champion Machine was knocked down for the first time after an organization match. This date will mark the history of the discipline and highlight the amazing potential of artificial intelligence.

Gul Baku, the 34-year-old then master of the world chessboard since 1985, lost after six matches, 3.5 to 2.5, to the IBM-designed Deep Blue supercomputer.

In front of cameras from all over the world, who came to shoot the show in New York, this setback has a taste of humiliation for the stormy Kasparov. Did he not assert that he would withstand machines at least until the dawn of the next millennium?

Un an plus tôt, le Russe avait mis à terre Deep Blue sur le score de 4 à 2. Mais ses concepteurs n’ont eu de cese d’améliorer le monstre de 1,4 tonne, capable désormais de calculer 200 millions de positions par the second.

“nothing installed”

The hero was shaken by his defeat, but nevertheless refused to accept the superiority of the machine. And he stated in the press conference that followed the match, as reported by Agence France-Presse, that “the computer has not proven anything yet.”

“Man, the best player in the world, he cracked under pressure,” he explains, speaking for himself, “but you can beat the computer, it has a lot of weaknesses.”

Far from comforting the loser with the $400,000 promised, he also criticizes IBM, which did not give him access to previous games the machine had played, and which was able to analyze all of its own.

World chess champion Garry Kasparov focuses before the last game of his match against the IBM Deep Blue computer in New York, May 11, 1997. Stan Honda AFP/Archives

He even accuses himself, noting that humans helped the computer during the match and regrets not “setting certain conditions” for the game to be “honest”.

Other world chess players, who have examined the live confrontation, also refuse to consider the defeat of the great leader a turning point.

In response to a question from the press, they indicated a series of bad choices for the Russian hero. For some, his intense need to understand the blows of the machine, rather than focus on winning, was fatal to him.

Years later, the book would pass on a secret from the developer of Deep Blue: a computer malfunction that would have turned the game around. Unable to choose between several moves, the machine could have randomly played during the game, destabilizing Kasparov for the rest of the confrontation.

“With a bit of hindsight…”

Either way, Deep Blue’s win made IBM happy, and I was glad to see the interest its computer prowess aroused.

“It all has nothing to do with the human versus machine battle but with how we humans use technology to solve complex problems,” the project leader exclaimed after the match. IBM, Chung Jin Tan.

And to pay tribute to what artificial intelligence will bring in many areas, from financial analysis to the study of natural, atmospheric or seismic phenomena.

Kasparov, revenge, in 2003 will equalize twice against computers. But time will calm his wounded ego in the end.

World chess champion Garry Kasparov focuses during a game in his match against IBM's Deep Blue computer, on May 7, 1997 in New York City.
World chess champion Garry Kasparov focuses during a game in his match against IBM’s Deep Blue computer, on May 7, 1997 in New York City. Stan Honda AFP/Archives

After the 1997 defeat, he said: “I was devastated,” in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in 2019. “But a little too late,” his defeat seemed to him “a victory for mankind,” since then he predicted “a wide range of activities.” that technology can help.

From now on, what worries the chess legend is the digital giants’ excesses in individual liberties: “We want them to be responsible,” he urged in an AFP interview in November 2021.

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