Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Deep Blue Redux

with 13 comments

Flashback: May 3, 1997

Where: The Equitable Center, New York City

What: Deep Blue v. Kasparov, The Rematch

Garry Kasparov prepares to make a move against IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer during the May 1997 rematch in which IBM's Deep Blue was ultimately victorious.

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?

Written by turbotodd

December 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm

13 Responses

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  1. I was at the Equitable Center auditorium that day too and can’t agree more with your perception of having watched history in the making. Or about Mr. Kasparov’s tamtrums. If I recall it correctly, just after finishing the match, it was announced that he would come “down” to comment the match with the public… that never happened since, a few minutes later a new announcement informed us that Mr. Kasparov was not in the mood of doing so…

    Congratulations on your post. Hope you are doing well.

    Joseluis Iribarren

    December 9, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    • Joseluis, so great to hear from you! Ha, I didn’t realize that Kasparov refused to come down to comment. Then again, I guess there wasn’t much for him to say!


      December 9, 2010 at 11:03 pm

  2. I think it was PoppeTyson who did the Java applet, StudioArchetype did the website design (and probably influenced the design of the applet, but the coding was done by PT).


    December 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    • Ed, thanks for the correction. It’s hard to remember all those details from 13 years ago, but you’re absolutely right!


      December 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm

      • I checked my notebooks and am 99.999999998675309% certain it was PoppeTyson which seems to be Publicis Modem these days.


        December 10, 2010 at 11:46 pm

      • Yes, it was Poppe Tyson – I was one of the programmers who built the Java applet to simulcast the match. In fact, I still have the original sketches/mockups of the interface that I created!

        Bob T

        February 17, 2011 at 5:08 am

  3. From my son, Warren Harper, who was the US Junior National Champion two years ago: “Interesting article – although I think the author may not realize that about half of the computer’s moves every game were not the computer’s idea, but the programmers and chess players who built Deep Blue. The main difference between Deep Blue and its predecessors was that Deep Blue was equipped with a very extensive “opening book”, for which many Grandmasters were hired to create. In other words, its first 7 – 15 moves were basically “hardcoded” in by the opening book, making the computer’s play pretty much pre-determined. In fact, in the last game of the rematch between Kasparov and Deep Blue, the Deep Blue team, in the morning before the game, had updated the opening book for a line that they thought Kasparov might play; this line was one which Kasparov knew was lost for black (he was black), but he didn’t think the computer would sacrifice a piece early on (since he guessed it wasn’t in its book). The computer instead had been updated and played the sacrifice, and Kasparov was simply lost by move 10, and lost very soon after. The author seems to overestimate the amount of independent “thinking” the computer actually did”

    Tom Harper

    December 10, 2010 at 1:42 pm

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