Ten years ago last month, to the dismay of many chess enthusiasts, the IBM supercomputer program Deep Blue beat the world chess champion Gary Kasparov: the greatest chess mind alive was elbowed aside by raw computing muscle. The quality of Deep Blue’s victory is still debated, but the moment marked a turning point in the relationship between man and machine.
The computer is now dominant in almost every board and card game devised by man. Computers can now beat us not only at chess, but also draughts, Othello, Scrabble, three-dimensional noughts and crosses, Monopoly and even bridge and poker (most of the time). In these games, the computer has a blueprint for “perfect play”: it simply runs the board position through a databank, and chooses the best next move, every time.
The unstoppable march of computer power has long been a staple of science fiction, the nightmare evoked in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix in which artificial intelligence seeks to control and supersede Man’s. If computers can win at the intellectual challenge of world-class chess, it was assumed, then the computerised brain, for good or ill, must be inevitable.
Yet there is one game in which the computer is still no match for Man, a game in which a competent teenager can beat the world’s most sophisticated computer program with ease: and that is the ancient Chinese board game Go, the oldest game in the world, and the only one at which man remains the undisputed champion. Read More.