12 January 2010

Scientific American's Computer Chess

Continuing with my survey of chess in Scientific American (see Scientific American's Chess Puzzles for the previous post), the magazine has through the years published four feature articles on computer chess:-

  • 1950: Claude Shannon; 'A Chess-Playing Machine'; Scientific American, Vol.182 no.2 (February 1950); p.48-51
  • 1958: Alex Bernstein and M. de V. Roberts; 'Computer vs. Chess-Player'; Scientific American, Vol.198 no.6 (June 1958); p.96-105.
  • 1973: A.L. Zobrist and F.R. Carlson, Jr.; 'An Advice-Taking Chess Computer'; Scientific American, Vol.228 no.6 (June 1973); p.92-105
  • 1990: Feng-hsiung Hsu, Thomas Anantharaman, Murray Campbell, and Andreas Nowatzyk; 'A Grandmaster Chess Machine'; Scientific American, Vol.263 no.4 (October 1990); p.44-50.

The four articles roughly trace the progress of chess playing computers over four decades: from utopian concept (Shannon) to an early operational model (Bernstein) through the years of slow progress and false leads (Zobrist) until grandmaster level was attained (Feng-hsiung Hsu). Wikipedia: 'In 1950 Shannon published a groundbreaking paper on computer chess entitled "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess".' Which was first, this paper or the SciAm piece?

SHANNON, Claude E. "Programming a computer for playing chess." In Philosophical Magazine, 7th series, 41, no. 314 (March 1950): 256-75. • '[With:] SHANNON. "A chess-playing machine." In Scientific American 182, no. 2 (February 1950): 48-51. 4o. Original printed wrappers; boxed. In this paper, written for a lay audience and published one month before the more technical paper above (probably because of the scheduling requirements of the different journals), Shannon gave a brief history of chess-playing machines, described the steps necessary for creating a chess-playing program, and ended by considering the question of whether chess-playing computers "think".'

From A Grandmaster Chess Machine, nearly four decades later:

In January of 1988, at a press conference in Paris, world chess champion Gary K. Kasparov was asked whether a computer would be able to defeat a grandmaster before the year 2000. "No way," he replied, "and if any grandmaster has difficulties playing computers, I would be happy to provide my advice."

Ten months after Kasparov's statement, in a major tournament held in Long Beach, Calif., Grandmaster Bent Larsen, a former contender for the world title, was defeated by a chess-playing machine we had designed in a graduate project at Carnegie-Mellon University. The machine, a combination of software and customized hardware called Deep Thought, won five other games, drew one and lost one, tying Grandmaster Anthony Miles for first place. Because machines are disqualified from winning money in tournaments, Miles pocketed the first prize of $10,000. (Deep Thought nonetheless defeated Miles a year later in an exhibition play-off match.)

A few years later, after Deep Thought had evolved into Deep Blue and lost its first match to Kasparov, SciAm reported The Deep Blue Team Plots Its Next Move [8 March 1996]. The team got its chance a year later: Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, 'IBM's silicon powerhouse plays a rematch with the world's chess champ' [21 April 1997]. Deep Blue won and Kasparov accused IBM of cheating, but most of the rest of the world accepted that he had been beaten fairly, though ruthlessly, by a powerful opponent. The era of human superiority in chess was over and SciAm has not published another article on the subject.


For a video of the Bernstein computer in action, see Chess on an IBM 704 (1958).

No comments: