Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to defeat a computer - A lesson from history

How to defeat a computer - A lesson from history

The domination of computers over the world’s greatest chess players has ramifications that extend far beyond chess.  Indeed, Stephen Hawking recently remarked that artificial intelligence could spell the end for human kind.
The modern human brain is the result of six million years of evolution.  In the natural world it has an unrivalled working memory.  However, it can’t hope to compete against a computer.  Computers were, after all, invented to do things we can’t.  When it comes to battling against computers in a chess match, humans are no longer competitive.  In the game as it currently stands.
Maybe chess players could look at other sports for inspiration.  When Manchester United played the great Barcelona side of a few years ago, manager Alex Ferguson knew that he couldn’t hope to out pass the opposition.  So he adapted his game plan.  Similarly, chess players would have more chance of success if they played to their brains’ strengths.
Around 1.8 million years ago, our hunter gatherer ancestors endured a period of climate changes.  Many species, including Neanderthal man, became extinct. And yet we emerged thriving.  Why?  Because our brains can adapt to the environment around them.  This is still beyond modern computers.
So how does this help human chess players beat computers?  Well under the game’s current format it doesn’t.  It’s never going to happen.  We need to petition FIDE to come up with a blue print for an alternative.  A format which gives the advantage to human players.
If an alternative format was introduced that was more reliant on creative insight and adaptability than logic and planning, human players would hold the upper hand.  Examples of this could be:
  • Removing a piece at random (The computer would know if this was planned for)
  • Swapping sides (This would test adaptability)
  • Changing the object of a game part way through (For instance, instead of checkmate, taking the opponent’s Queen)
We’d need to keep the existing game too of course.
Imagine the implications of having two forms of chess.  A chess Ryder Cup with the greatest humans battling against the top computers would be a historic event.  In many ways it would be bigger than the Olympics or football World Cup.  Both formats could be used, with the team that accumulates the most points overall coming out victorious.


Garry Kasparov was on top against Deep blue in 1997. He was thrown by the computer’s fail safe move, which made him think the computer was the better player.  He then went on to lose the match.  This is an example of the brain adapting to the circumstances, and could just as easily work the other way.  If just one human achieved success, the rest of the team would believe they could win.  This would rewire their brains, and the poor old computer would be none the wiser.
Until the day comes when computers have full artificial intelligence, they can be outwitted.  It has happened before.  Neanderthals are thought to have had larger brains.  It is therefore quite possible that they had a larger working memory too.  In the end they lost out, because they couldn’t adapt to changing circumstances.
If FIDE introduced an alternative format with the kind of rule changes  listed above, the chess playing community would have to have their say.  What do you think?  Is an alternative format a good idea, or would it bring the game into chaos?     What changes would you make?  Who would make your chess Ryder Cup team?  Have your say in the comments.

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