Man: 0 Machine: 1
Beating the world's chess master was a win for human ingenuity
Garry Kasparov, the undefeated, highest-ranking chess player in the world, watched his opponent's pawn advance to a strong position. Able to foretell his demise several moves early, Mr. Kasparov stared at the board and shifted his eyes. He stood up and left the room, both arms raised high above his head as he marched, defeated, out the door.
This was no ordinary match. It was 1997, and the greatest chess master in the world had just resigned to a computer.
A team of young programmers at IBM had managed to build a real version of the parlor trick that had fooled celebrities all over Europe in the 18th century: a chess-playing machine. Many who watched the match booed when "Deep Blue" was carried away as the victor, treating the win as doomsday for the game - and for human intelligence.
Feng-Hsiung Hsu, who worked tirelessly for almost two decades to build this machine, demonstrates in "Behind Deep Blue" that the computer's victory was not a matter of machine defeating man, but rather the advancement of a powerful tool assembled by human beings. And Hsu challenges readers to celebrate that milestone.
He grew up in Taiwan and emigrated to the United States in 1982 to study computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. As a graduate student who played uncompetitive chess on occasion, he was more interested in personal laser printers than in artificial intelligence. But the thought of pursuing one of the oldest holy grails in computer science - a machine that could defeat the world chess champion - encouraged him to engage in "serious soul searching." By 1985, he made a decision that would change the face of the game: Hsu would invest the coming years in what he dubbed the Computer Chess Problem.
Although he is not a writer and English is not his first language, Hsu's enthusiasm and expertise allow him to ease into the role of storyteller, and his personal narrative is colored with details that make, surprisingly, for a thrilling page-turner. However, the challenge of entertaining chess gurus and laymen alike is not entirely overcome. Hsu's moves through the making and eventual successes of Deep Blue may be too technical for those who don't understand the game and not technical enough for those who do.
• Elizabeth Armstrong works on the Op-Ed page when she's not playing chess.