Friday, April 2, 2021

Man + Machine

In 1997, Watson’s precursor, IBM’s Deep Blue, beat the reigning chess grand master Garry Kasparov in a famous man-versus-machine match. After machines repeated their victories in a few more matches, humans largely lost interest in such contests. 

You might think that was the end of the story (if not the end of human history), but Kasparov realized that he could have performed better against Deep Blue if he’d had the same instant access to a massive database of all previous chess moves that Deep Blue had. If this database tool was fair for an AI, why not for a human? 

Let the human mastermind be augmented by a database just as Deep Blue’s was. 

To pursue this idea, Kasparov pioneered the concept of man-plus-machine matches, in which AI augments human chess players rather than competes against them. 

Now called freestyle chess matches, these are like mixed martial arts fights, where players use whatever combat techniques they want. You can play as your unassisted human self, or you can act as the hand for your supersmart chess computer, merely moving its board pieces, or you can play as a “centaur,” which is the human/ AI cyborg that Kasparov advocated. 

A centaur player will listen to the moves suggested by the AI but will occasionally override them—much the way we use the GPS navigation intelligence in our cars. 

In the championship Freestyle Battle 2014, open to all modes of players, pure chess AI engines won 42 games, but centaurs won 53 games. 

Today the best chess player alive is a centaur. It goes by the name of Intagrand, a team of several humans and several different chess programs. 

But here’s the even more surprising part: The advent of AI didn’t diminish the performance of purely human chess players. Quite the opposite. Cheap, supersmart chess programs inspired more people than ever to play chess, at more tournaments than ever, and the players got better than ever. 

There are more than twice as many grand masters now as there were when Deep Blue first beat Kasparov. The top-ranked human chess player today, Magnus Carlsen, trained with AIs and has been deemed the most computerlike of all human chess players. He also has the highest human grand master rating of all time.
Source: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

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