Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hydra vs. Humanity

The hot chess topic online and in the blogosphere is the Adams-Hydra Man vs. Machine Match. Another bad outing for humanity, as we should expect. And they will just keep getting worse. After all, humans make the type of mistakes that computers never do (and which computers are excellent at punishing) and the computers are being trained to be better mimics of humans' understanding of the larger complexity in chess. But computers do not spell the death of chess. Not only will it take another lifetime (at least) before computers "solve" the game, but people will never be able to carry the solution with them (at least in their flesh anyway). So people will continue to play the game and see the contest of two humans as interesting. I always think of Spock in Star Trek playing 3-D chess against the perfect computer of the future: he plays not out of a hope he will win, but out of a desire to test his mind. We will still need to do that in the future.

By the way, I think a better opponent for Hydra would have been Topalov or Anand, since they are better known than Adams for the depth of their understanding even in the most tactically insane situations. Here is a game that Anand recently described as his best. I wouldn't even attempt to analyze it for you:

[Event "Izt"]
[Site "Biel (Switzerland)"]
[Date "1993.??.??"]
[White "Anand Viswanathan (IND) "]
[Black "Ftacnik Lubomir (TCH) "]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B90"]
[Round "3"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. f3 b5 8. g4 h6 9. Qd2 Bb7 10. h4 b4 11. Nce2 d5 12. e5 Nfd7 13. f4 Nc5 14. Bg2 Nbd7 15. O-O-O Be7 16. g5 h5 17. f5 Nxe5 18. Nf4 Nc4 19. Qe2 Qa5 20. Kb1 Nxb2 21. fxe6 O-O-O 22. Kxb2 Na4+ 23. Kc1 b3 24. Nxb3 Ba3+ 25. Kb1 Nc3+ 26. Ka1 Qa4 27. Qd3 Bb4 28. Nc1 Kb8 29. Bd4 Rc8 30. Be5+ Ka7 31. Qe3+ Rc5 32. Rd3 Qxc2 33. Bxc3 Bxc3+ 34. Rxc3 Qxc3+ 35. Qxc3 Rxc3 36. exf7 Rf8 37. g6 1-0

According to one story I read, Anand used only 30 minutes for most of his moves.

The mythology of man versus monster is one powerful frame through which to see the Adams-Hydra match, as the promoters of the event recognize. But I would not personalize the machine so much. In fact, I would prefer to see the match as one man, alone, testing himself to compose something larger than even he himself can fully grasp. It is only thus that Adams might triumph. But it is completely possible for Adams to succeed--and it is only the human who can succeed in that way.

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