Archive for May 11th, 2012
It was fifteen years ago today that the IBM chess-playing supercomputer, Deep Blue, beat he-who-shall-remain-nameless, a world grandmaster, after a six-game match, which brought two wins for IBM, one for the world champion, and three draws.
It was classic man-versus-machine, but underlying the mythology that enveloped the John Henry storyline was something far more important: The opportunity to push the frontiers of computer science, to push computers to handle the kind of complex calculations necessary for helping discover new pharmaceuticals; to conduct the kind of financial modeling needed to identify trends and do risk analysis; to perform the kinds of massive calculations needed in many fields of science.
Solving The Problem That Is Chess
Since artificial intelligence emerged as a concept along with the first real computers in the 1940s, computer scientists compared the performance of these “giant brains” with human minds, and many gravitated to chess as a way of testing the calculating abilities of computers. Chess is a game that represents a collection of challenging problems for minds and machines, but had simple rules, and was thus an excellent testbed for laying the groundwork for the “big data” era that was soon to come.
There’s but no question that Deep Blue was such a powerful computer programmed to solve the complex, strategic game of chess. But IBM’s goal was far deeper: To enable researchers to discover and understand the limits and opportunities presented by massively parallel processing and high performance computing.
IBM Deep Blue: Analyzing 200 Million Chess Positions Per Second
If, in fact, Deep Blue could explore up to 200 million possible chess positions per second, then could this deep computing capability be used to help society handle the kinds of complex calculations required in some of these other aforementioned areas.
Deep Blue did, in fact, prove that industry could tackle these issues with smart algorithms and sufficient computational power.
I recalled earlier this year in a blog post my own experience witnessing the Deep Blue chess match. It evoked a lot of nostalgia for me and so many others.
But it also laid a foundation, paving the way for new kinds of advanced computers and breakthroughs, including IBM’s Blue Gene and, later, IBM Watson.
Forever In Blue Genes
Blue Gene, introduced in 2004, demonstrated the next grand challenge in computing and was both the most powerful supercomputer and the most efficient, but was built to help biologists observe the invisible processes of protein folding and gene development. Deep Blue was also one of the earliest experiments in supercomputing that propelled IBM to become a market leader in this space to this day.
Fifteen years on, we’ve seen epic growth in the volume and variety of data being generated around the planet, via business, the social media, new sensor data helping with instrumentation of the physical world vis-a-vis IBM’s smarter planet initiative. We’ve created so much new data that, in fact, 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone!
Calling Doctor Watson
Most recently, IBM embarked upon the next wave of this computing progress through the development of IBM’s Watson, which can hold the equivalent of about one million books worth of information. But make no mistake, Watson’s significance wasn’t just the amount of information it could process, but rather, a new generation of technology that uses algorithms to find answers in unstructured data more effectively than standard search technology, while also “understanding” natural language.
The promise of IBM Watson is now being put to productive use in industry — as an online tool to assist medical professionals in formulating diagnoses; by simplifying the banking experience by analyzing customer needs in the context of vast amounts of ever-changing financial , economic, product, and client data; and, I’m sure, other industries near you soon.
Those early chess matches were exciting, nail-biting even (and who’d have thought we’d ever say that about chess?)! But they pale by comparison to the productive work and problem-solving IBM’s Watson, and other IBM technologies, are now and will continue to be involved with as the world of big data matures and becomes adopted by an ever-increasing audience.
You can now visit Deep Blue, which ultimately was retired to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
But its groundbreaking contributions to artificial intelligence and computing in general continues, and now extends well beyond the confines of the chess board.
Don’t think for a moment I didn’t notice that the PGA’s Tournament Players Championship tournament started yesterday down in Ponta Vedra Beach, Florida.
I’ve been busy this week, but not sooo busy that I would ignore this classic golfing event.
It is a tournament that began the week with Phil Mickelson’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, along with Scottish golfer Sandy Lyle, Peter Alliss, and Hollis Stacy, and the incomparable Texas sportswriter, Dan Jenkins (author of Dead Solid Perfect and Semi-Tough).
You can watch some highlights of Dan’s acceptance speech, along with Phils’ and others, here.
It’s worth the price of admission just to hear Dan Jenkins riff the names of all the famous golfers he has either 1) played rounds of golf with 2) had cocktails with 3) written stories about.
Jenkins related one story in particular, whereby one of the greatest golfers ever, Ben Hogan, offered to give Jenkins golf lessons, three times a week, for four months, to prepare Jenkins to compete in the National Amateur.
Jenkins thanked Hogan profusely for the offer, but explained that all he’d ever wanted to be was a sportswriter.
Hogan looked at him like “he’d looked at other people, with that cold stare,” and, Jenkins explained, “you don’t know if you’re going to get a bullet in the head or a dagger in your heart. And so you just wait for him to speak.”
Finally, Hogan smiled and said, “Well, keep workin’ at it.”
“And that,” Jenkins explained, “is what I’ve been doing for the last sixty years.”
As for Michelson’s speech, get your box of Kleenex ready.
Phil, whom you could argue is still “mid-career,” especially based on his recent golfing performance, explained that “We’re all in it together to enjoy this great game.”
He thanked everyone, “for competing with me…for your friendships. This has been so much fun and I love sharing this with everybody.”
He also went on to thank his fans, but with his typical good humor explained, “The fans have made this such a fun ride. It’s been their energy that has pulled me through. I’ve tried to reciprocate by launching drive after drive in their general direction.”
The audience, and I, found that one liner hilarious!
I actually had the good fortune to be hosted by the PGA at Ponta Vedra back in 1998, when we were featuring them as a customer in our advertising campaign.
I saw the World Golf Hall of Fame right before it was open to the public (I really must get back there!), and I also had the special privilege of giving the TPC Sawgrass Course a go.
I wasn’t playing nearly as much golf during those times, so my game was middling at best.
But, I made it through the round okay, and when I hit 17, the one with the floating green, I think I tried three times before the ball finally stayed on the green (I chuckle to this day when a pro drops a ball in the water on 17. I did NOT laugh when Angel Cabrera dropped four of them in the water there yesterday. Remember that nightmare hole inTin Cup???)
On 18, with that perilous water that essentially makes up the entirety of the hole’s left perimeter, I decided I would hit irons all the way. My drive was a three-iron that faded left and settled about three feet from the water. So much for playing it safe!
My second shot was another long iron, which landed promptly on the green about six feet from the hole.
I sank the putt and ran giggling off the green, and have never been back.
I birdied 18 at TPC Sawgrass playing only irons.
Take that, Phil Mickelson!