Deep Blue Redux
Flashback: May 3, 1997
Where: The Equitable Center, New York City
What: Deep Blue v. Kasparov, The Rematch
It was classic Man v. Machine. World champion chessmaster Garry Kasparov had agreed to a rematch against the IBM Supercomputer, Deep Blue, after Kasparov had taken Deep Blue 4-2 in Philadelphia in their first meeting in February 1996.
This time, Deep Blue was out for…well, if not blood, then certainly revenge. And Kasparov was out to show he could beat the machine once again.
Game 1 that day went to Kasparov. Lest you were wondering how long things stick around on the Internet, you can go back and read the play-by-play coverage from the IBM Website for the event that day.
I was living up in Mount Kisco, New York, at the time, in Westchester County, and I remember trying to get onto the Website via dial-up modem and use a Java applet IBM had developed in partnership with Poppe Tyson so that people around the globe would be able to follow the action online.
For those of you were still in diapers, this was at a time when not everyone had a broadband connection into their home.
For the next match, I decided to head into the city and go to the Equitable Center in person to see for myself.
Well, not directly. The Deep Blue computer, the IBM Research team programming Deep Blue, and Kasparov were all situated some 34 floors above the auditorium, where the “play-by-play” was being called.
Now, I’m no chess grandmaster myself. Not even close.
But I knew enough watching the play-by-play (with several grandmasters calling the action onstage, including Maurice Ashley) up on the video screen to know this was some serious chess.
You could almost watch the IBM computer “thinking” through the moves, as seconds ticked off between moves — although on most moves, it didn’t take very many seconds. Not for nothin’ did they classify Deep Blue as a supercomputer.
People in the Equitable Center audience would cheer when certain moves occurred, particularly those by Deep Blue, which often seemed to surprise the chess-savvy audience with the depth of Deep Blue’s chess acumen.
That was something I thought I’d never see in my lifetime: Spectators cheering on a chess game. But it was terribly enthralling.
Because there was more to cheer about than the game itself.
One had to step back and remind oneself this wasn’t a Bobby Fischer/Garry Kasparov match. This was Garry Kasparov playing chess against a computer. In real-time.
This wasn’t a situation where humans were making the decision. This was the computer in the driver’s seat, responsible for it’s own fate, but also devoid of the trappings of human emotions and frailty (which by the end of the tournament, Kasparov certainly was not, as he demonstrated in a number of his post-match temper tantrums.)
You couldn’t blame the guy. You wouldn’t like being beaten by a computer, either!
Which is why I had the feeling I was watching history being made. And apparently I wasn’t the only one.
IBM garnered an estimated $100M worth of free public relations exposure through the course of the rematch, but in so doing, captured the imaginations of people from around the world.
And, their attention online.
Up to that point, Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, the Rematch, was one of the most popular live events ever staged on the Internet. The Website, designed in partnership with Web design shop Studio Archetype, received more than 74 million hits during the event, which represented some 4 million users from 106 countries.
All the fanfare, all the publicity, all the hoopla…it was fun. But you can only stretch the Man v. Machine, John Henry analogies so far.
However, the implications of the technology were…well, endless.
Dr. Mark Bregman, at the time the general manager of IBM’s RS/6000 division, wrote a guest essay for the match Website, and this is what he had to say about the match:
“Think about it. Playing chess requires knowledge of countless possibilities — quickly providing answers to any number of ‘what if’ questions. That’s what business people and members of the scientific community have come to expect from massively parallel computer systems.”
The evolution of those possibilities continue.
In June of this year, The New York Times magazine ran a cover story featuring the next move in that evolution.
If the answer is an attempt to build a computing system that can understand and answer complex questions with enough precision and speed to compete against some of the best Jeopardy! contestants out there…well, then, the question, of course, is:
What is Watson?