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Rethinking Deep Blue

Why a Computer Can't Reproduce a Mind Published in Origins & Design 18, no. 2

The recent hysteria over the defeat of world chess champion Gary Kasparov by IBM computer Deep Blue has provided fresh fuel for the debate over whether computers can be intelligent and, yes, even exhibit the other qualities of mind — consciousness, sensation, emotion and the like. Researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) are no doubt pointing to the victory as a crucial step in what they already see as inevitable — that, there being no essential difference between mind and machine, machines are, and will continue to become, more mind-like. The rest of us, less schooled in the technicalities of computer programming, no doubt are confused about the meaning of Deep Blue's victory and what it says about our humanity. We have long believed in (and for good reason) the uniqueness of our minds, and their qualitative distinctiveness from purely material things such as computers. Has Deep Blue threatened these beliefs? What, in light of Deep Blue's victory, should the rational person believe? Now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to re-examine the idea that computers can simulate our own minds.

No one can beat Deep Blue at chess. Gary Kasparov could not beat Deep Blue, and Kasparov is as good as any chess player has been and perhaps ever will be. Kasparov is the Michael Jordan of chess. Deep Blue is better (rematches notwithstanding). Deep Blue not only managed the impossible — intimidating Kasparov at his own game — but left him aghast at the apparent cunning and creativity of the manner in which it played. After his defeat in Game Two, Kasparov was so unnerved at the strategic maneuvering of Deep Blue that he insinuated that IBM might have tinkered with Blue's program during the match. Kasparov was almost certainly wrong about this, but he was right to be concerned — Deep Blue is beginning to outdistance human chess playing in almost all aspects. Deep Blue — calculating 200 million positions per second — has become brilliant, strategic, and, yes, essentially unbeatable.

Continue Reading at Origins & Design 18, no. 2

Erik J. Larson

Fellow, Technology and Democracy Project
Erik J. Larson is the author of The Myth of Artificial Intelligence and works on issues in computational technology and intelligence (AI). He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin in 2009. His dissertation was a hybrid that combined work in analytic philosophy, computer science, and linguistics and included faculty from all three departments.