Tech

The 1997 chess game that thrust AI into the spotlight

With his hand pushed firmly into his cheek and his eyes fixed on the table, Garry Kasparov shot a final dark glance at the chessboard before storming out of the room: the king of chess had just been beaten by a computer.

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May 11, 1997 was a watershed for the relationship between man and machine, when the artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer Deep Blue finally achieved what developers had been promising for decades.

It was an “incredible” moment, AI expert Philippe Rolet told AFP, even if the enduring technological impact was not so huge.

“Deep Blue’s victory made people realise that machines could be as strong as humans, even on their territory,” he said.

Developers at IBM, the US firm that made Deep Blue, were ecstatic with the victory but quickly refocused on the wider significance.

“This is not about man versus machine. This is really about how we, humans, use technology to solve difficult problems,” said Deep Blue team chief Chung-Jen Tan after the match, listing possible benefits from financial analysis to weather forecasting.

Even Chung would have struggled to comprehend how central AI has now become — finding applications in almost every field of human existence.

“AI has exploded over the last 10 years or so,” UCLA computer science professor Richard Korf told AFP.

“We’re now doing things that used to be impossible.”

After his defeat, Kasparov, who is still widely regarded as the greatest chess player of all time, was furious.

He hinted there had been unfair practices, denied he had really lost and concluded that nothing at all had been proved about the power of computers.

He explained that the match could be seen as “one man, the best player in the world, (who) has cracked under pressure”.

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