Machine Uprising – Has AI Broken Chess?

At some point in the years preceding 700AD, somewhere in India the tactical game of wits we know today as chess was formed. Hundreds of years later in 1956 the system known as MANIAC I (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer) defeated a human player in twenty-three moves. Ever since then tougher and faster non-human competitors have been created.

Today any chess engine you play whether an app on your phone or digital tabletop chess game; comes with an inbuilt intelligence that can play and often defeat you in chess. Have we started a problem we cannot fix? Chess is of course a competitive game, the idea is to be able to best your opponent and outthink them, quicker than they can outthink you. Surely then a computer who can calculate thousands of pieces of information in split seconds is always going to be the victor in this particular type of game. A game where millions compete to be the best, taking part in worldwide challenges and competitions, a game that has long been an indicator of a higher intellect. But today, not even the greatest players can defeat the impeccable computing skills of an AI brain.

In 1997, chess Grandmaster and then World Champion Garry Kasparov went head-to-head against IBM’s computer Deep Blue. Although the match remains controversial up until today, the results do not change – the computer won.

By 2004 elite chess players were eager to prove themselves against the powerful metal hand of their machine opponents, and people wanted to see. The Man versus Machine World Team Championship commenced in October. Twelve matches were played with the humans winning only one. In November 2005 another attempt was made to battle the machines. The resulting single human victory was the last recorded win against an elite level robot in a regular chess tournament.

Today you can be certain that whatever your skill level at chess, a computer can beat you.

Does this nullify the purpose for competition? Possibly. Would everyone be happy with three robots on the winning podiums at the Olympics?

Unlikely. Does this take the fun out of the game? Not at all. We can still enjoy chess just as we do any other game regardless that we aren’t the best player that has ever existed.

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik vs Chess Terminator

It is true computers have excelled past us, and even have the potential to solve chess. This means that they may eventually figure out an unbeatable combination of moves that would always lead to a win. But what we may be forgetting is that even if this happens, it is still a human achievement. Every computer is designed and created by a human somewhere along the line. Even the self-learning digital brains that inhabit some of these systems were made from code, code written by teams of people. Innovation can’t ruin a game that has stood the test of time for so many years. Behind it all the programmers that make these artificial chess champions are simply showing their machines capabilities. Just because a computer can perform better does not mean that a person can’t still be adept at something. After all mathematicians haven’t given up since the invention of the calculator.