The end of humanity as we know it? Or a lot of really nerdy people upset over the head nerd being knocked off (beats “up!”) by a machine? From bizarre NBA references to Year 2000 computer meltdown, we’ve got it all.
Daryl Dawkins, a moose of a human being who played center for the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers in late ’70s and early ’80s, used to name his dunks. He’d break a backboard on a dunk and suddenly it was the “Chocolate Thunder Flying, Robinzine Cryin’, Wam Bam I am Jam” or some other such ridiculousness. Well, Deep Blue just put down a “Chess Board Pieces Flying, Kasparov Cryin’, Wam Bam I am Jam” on Garry “the machine cheated” Kasparov.
After hyping this six-game chess match as the ultimate in man versus machine, and eagerly casting himself in the role of savior of humanity (and I thought I had ego problems), Kasparov proceeded to give a virtual exhibition on chess chokedom. Forget that he easily crushed Deep Blue in game 1. Nevermind, that half the matches were drawn. When the microchips were down, Kasparov folded faster than Superman at a laundry mat.
Of course that’s not to say that anyone else in the worldâ€”with perhaps two exceptionsâ€”would’ve done any better against Deep Blue. It’s just that, you see, no one else goes around trumpeting themselves as a chessic messiah. (Even the original messiah didn’t have this much self-proclaiming P.R.)
To his credit, Kasparov showed up at game six’s post-match conference and told the world that he was really intellectually toasted after game five. He simply couldn’t believe that Deep Blue would actually play for a draw, and when it did, his last reasonable chance at victory was gone.
What does this mean? Various commentators have been, for the last week or so, down-playing the importance of Kasparov’s defeat. Didn’t anybody else see Terminator? How about Blade Runner? This is a milestone of computers usurping power that was once strictly human. It’s hardly the end of humankind, but certainly it is a continuation of the triumph of technology over humanity.
[The next example of this may not exist on the chess board. If estimates are correct, the “Year 2000 problem”â€”most computers were not programmed to handle the change date from 1999 to 2000â€”could end up shutting down airports, businesses, governments, etc. Some estimates of the cost of fixing this glitch run as high as $1 trillion, which is a lot to pay for a cute COBOL programming hack.]
Chess is a game that is perhaps more intellectual than most, but it’s a game nonetheless. So it’s easy to say that Deep Blue’s victory on the chessboard is meaningless. That’s true inasmuch as we consider chess is a relatively meaningless pursuit. And I do, but that’s not to say that I dislike chess.
If we stop and think for a moment about what Deep Blue’s victory portends for up-and-coming professional chess players, and I think we’ll find the true meaning behind Kasparov’s loss: Computers are ready to replace another set of workers. (Top chess players can earn big dollars at competitions held world-wide.)
That’s happpened before, and the world’s still turning. Sure, it’s not the end of humanity by any stretch of the imagination. But at some point in the not to distant future it’ll be our own industry that computers will take over, and we’re going to realize that it’s an ill wind that blows.