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If you can’t measure progress you can’t make progress. That’s one of the truisms of the human condition. Since the early days of computing, in the 1940s and 50s, computer scientists have searched for ways to measure their achievements. And, often, for all the obvious reasons, they have matched up their machines and software against humans in intellectually rigorous games.

IBM has used the human-versus-machine trope repeatedly over the years to motivate our scientists, focus our research and excite the imagination of the computer-savvy public.  It’s one of the ways we take on what we call the “grand challenges”of computing.

Most recently, of course, the TV quiz show Jeopardy! provided the venue for mano-a-maquina combat.  IBM’s Watson caused a sensation by beating two past grand-champions. Fifteen years ago, chess was the battlefield. On May 11, 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue became the first computer to defeat a reigning world chess champion in a regulation match. The achievement shocked many people—and showed just how capable computers were becoming.

Murray Campbell, one of three IBM researchers who made up the core of the Deep Blue project, explains why games are so compelling for computer scientists : “If you try to tackle something like general intelligence, you’ll die out of the blocks. It’s too much. But, with games, you focus on one specific problem. You have a chance to make progress and produce something of value that can be used as a component of something bigger.”

Computing pioneer Alan Turing got this whole game thing rolling in 1950 when he published a paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, which begins with an immodest proposal: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’”At the time, computers were in their infancy. They were good at calculating, but not much else. In his paper, he mused about creating a written  exercise where people would correspond with a computer—and scientists would see if the humans realized that they were interacting with a computer.

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This came to be called the Turing Test. To date, no computer has passed it—though you could imagine that IBM’s Watson might do pretty well.

David Ferrucci, who headed up Watson team, considered developing the Deep QA technology to take on the Turing Test, but decided against it. “Part of me would love to do it, but it’s hard to justify. There’s a lot of work and expense. We focused on the business side of things,” he says.

A number of early computer scientists created game-playing programs. One of the most remarkable among them was Arthur Samuel, a pioneer of artificial intelligence who worked for many years at IBM. In the early 1960s, Samuel wrote a checkers-playing program that ran on IBM’s 701 computer. To test his invention, he challenged one of the top US checkers champions to a match—and won.  Computer historians credit his checkers work with being one of the earliest examples of non-numerical computation.

Murray Campbell played chess at a fairly high level during his student days in his native Canada. After he arrived as a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1981, top computer science students like him were beginning to create some really smart game-playing machines. He was a member of two teams that built quite successful chess programs, Deep Thought and Hitech.

By then, computer scientists had realized that they couldn’t beat top human players based on brute force computation alone. Campbell and his colleagues added some additional ingredients: clever search and analysis algorithms along with specialized chips to rapidly search and evaluate chess positions.

Murry Campbell, left, and the Deep Thought team

With that combination they could nearly match the cognitive skills of some of the top chess masters. They did well enough in demonstration matches that IBM hired Campbell and two of his colleagues to come to work at IBM Research. Their task: to build a chess-mastering computer based on the design of Deep Thought. They produced Deep Blue.

Campbell vividly remembers the final game of the six-game match in 1997. Deep Blue was so dominant that the game ended in less than two hours. His wife, Gina, had planned on arriving at the venue in the Equitable Center in New York City to watch the second half, but it was over before she arrived. “It was an absolute crush. It was shocking,” Campbell says.  “It made everybody understand in a clear way that problems that may have been considered unsolvable were now solvable.”

These days, Campbell is a senior manager in the Business Analytics and Mathematical Sciences Department at IBM Research. Other members of the department helped create Watson, but Campbell wasn’t involved. (It’s tough working 90-hour weeks for months on end. Plus, he says, “You potentially embarrass yourself in front of the world.”) His focus is applying expertise in optimization, forecasting and probabilistic analysis to IT services—which makes up more than 50% of IBM’s annual revenues.

He’s deeply involved in projects that could transform the way large organizations operate. His work is one of the threads of IBM’s vision of what we call the era of cognitive systems. Because of science and technology breakthroughs, we are beginning to create machines and software that do much more than compute—they sense, learn, predict, and, in some ways, think.  This is the ultimate grand challenge. “The hard part of the era of cognitive systems is it’s not a game. We’re transforming the world,” he says.





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February 24, 2015
6:57 pm

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Posted by: Janyce Smitreski
May 9, 2013
10:26 am

I found something very suspicious. The same article as if it was written by Murray himself but published after yours:

Posted by: Bruno
May 17, 2012
10:27 am

While Deep Blue is well known we should not forget that IBM, in the person of Dr. Gerry Tesauro at White Plains, developed the neural net theory that underpins all the world class backgammon programs that exist today, the strongest of which is Extreme Gammon.

Backgammonsoftware can’t be programmed in the same way as chess because there are just too many possible positions due to the influence of the dice. Back in 1994 Tesauro developed TD-Gammon, not through a specific interest in backgammon but because the game was the ideal vehicle for the devopment of neural net theory. In essence Tesuaro taught TD-gammon the rules of the game and then left it to work out backgammon strategy from first principles.

Even in 1994 in could hold its own with strong players and its play led to fundamental revisions of ‘known’ backgammon tactics and strategies.

TD-Gammon was never released commercially.

So hats off to Gerry Tesauro and IBM Research.

Posted by: Chris Bray
May 16, 2012
11:30 am

It would be hard to understate the historical importance of this match for the field of AI, but the fact is that this was not great chess and certainly not Kasparov at his best or anywhere near it. He resigned the second game in a position that could well have been drawn, and the sixth game was a joke. Kasparov played a line which he knew well was vastly inferior, and the critical knight sacrifice played by Deep Blue was not a product of machine intelligence, but a pre-programmed “book” move. Could Kasparov have thrown the match on purpose, hoping for a rematch and even bigger payday?

Posted by: Martin Sturzenbecker
May 15, 2012
11:39 pm

Truely inspiring.
A machine can think and defeat human intelligence.

Posted by: Richard Wu
May 15, 2012
4:51 am

Very interesting and inspiring!! Feels Good to be part of such a Organization which THINK’s innovatively.

Posted by: Sushma
May 14, 2012
9:40 pm

As an enthusiastic chess player myself I followed Deep Blues contests with Kasparov with great interest. However this article seems to imply Deep Blue is a cognitive system whereas it is actually a “brute force” program with dedicated hardware. The hueristic software layer is designed to cut down the amounts of positions it needs to rate to select a move. An alternative approach is to “teach” the computer to select a move on general principles – this approach has proved to be far weaker than the brute force approach which is the mainstay of chess programs to date.

Posted by: Leith Palmer
May 14, 2012
8:52 pm

Thank you for the really inspiring story!

It is very interesting to observe that both of the two great accomplishments, Deep Blue and DeepQA, decided against the Turing test. A computer with intelligence does not have to think as human does. This is a very important implication in practice.

Posted by: Tsuyoshi Ide
May 14, 2012
6:48 pm

This was a rematch of the 1996 match that Kasparov won. In one game, Kasparov offered Deep Blue a material advantage (something chess computers love) for a better position, but Deep Blue declined to take the bait. Kasparov accused the IBM team of cheating (i.e. a human handler refused the material advantage instead of Deep Blue). IBM researchers did actively changed algorithms and position weights during the match, but denied doing it during any game which would have been against the rules of the match.

I wish Deep Blue had not been dismantled such that it could be evaluated independently and represent a standard which all future chess programs could be measured against.

As a man and an IBMer, I was pulling for both sides. “The thought” captures the imagination, but I consider Deep Blue a scalable architecture that evaluates a gazillion positions, rather than a thinker.

Posted by: Bill
May 14, 2012
4:37 pm

Truly inspiring!!

Posted by: Subhrajit Das Purkayastha
May 14, 2012
11:00 am

Sergio, from October 24th, 2002,

One of the two towers that made up Deep Blue, the supercomputer that beat chess master Garry Kasparov in a touted match in 1997, will become part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s “Information Age: People, Information and Technology.”

There was one node of Deep Blue in the Poughkeepsie lab for a while after the 1997 match. It may have been the piece that was used at one of the Supercpomputing conferences. I know I played it a couple of times, made it to about 18 moves before being slaughtered!

Posted by: Bernie King-Smith
May 14, 2012
10:18 am

@zolenek, it is the case that we are becoming obsessed with measurement. On the face of it, the first sentence is demonstrably false since progress has occurred over time without any measurement (arts, health, physics, mathematics). It is the case that it does become easier to manage progress effectively and efficiently when measurement exists, although many healthy organizations (and societies) have natural “homing mechanisms” which select actions which yield progress.

I would be remiss if I didn’t observe Einstein’s words: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Posted by: Blair Binney
May 14, 2012
10:09 am

I think the Headline Sub-Title is attractive but misleading: “The grand challenge that has taken computing from chess to cognitive systems”. This is exactly the opportunity that is generating so much interest, but frankly I missed in the article where cognition is really defined or discussed.

Posted by: Blair Binney
May 14, 2012
10:06 am

I need explanation for first sentence.

Posted by: Zdenek
May 14, 2012
8:46 am

Time flies. I still remember my first time to meet the Deep Blue team. It’s 1995, and the team bring Deep Blue Junior to Hong Kong to take part in an International Chess Championship. Deep Blue Jr didn’t win then. But 2 years later, the team made history.

It’s great that IBM is a place for people to think, innovate and make an impact to the world. I look forward to our next big thing after Watson.

Posted by: Florence Ma
May 14, 2012
3:32 am

Interesting, where is now Deep Blue located to? Couls be possible to put it on and allow IBMers to play against it?

Posted by: Sergio Pagano
May 14, 2012
3:02 am

Yes – that was the key element. Psychologically-based strategy does not work against a computer that has no feeling and no manner in which to make situational, subjective value-based decisions. But great wars Kasparov try it and do not play draw.

Posted by: Andreas Hardt-Broschei
May 14, 2012
1:06 am

This is remarkable and really very inspiring !!

Posted by: Manjunath Setty
May 13, 2012
3:32 am

It is really Inspiring.

Posted by: Samir R Bhol
May 11, 2012
1:13 pm

I remember being called in just before the first match to improve tuning of the network to the modified SP2 nodes. I improved the startup time by getting rid of a network bottleneck. Last year I also worked on the final network design for Jeopardy! I think I am the only IBMer who got to work on both machines, however, behind the scenes in development.

Posted by: Bernie King-Smith
May 11, 2012
12:56 pm

One thing that needs to be accounted for is the psychology of the Kasparov match. One of Kasparov’s greatest skills was terrorizing the opposition with apparently risky moves that were designed to draw out the opponent. Such a psychologically-based strategy does not work against a computer that has no feeling and no manner in which to make situational, subjective value-based decisions. Deep Blue was highly objective, and that was the issue the 6th game.

Posted by: Aaron H
May 11, 2012
12:50 pm

Truly inspiring.

Posted by: Rajeev
May 11, 2012
12:19 pm

It was a great victory indeed but it needs to be pointed out that the human world champion (Kasparov) played quite poorly in the 6th game.

Posted by: Rick Goetzee
May 11, 2012
9:06 am

It’s great to see that IBM hired and is still hiring people with a vision and a great mind to continue to change the world.

Posted by: Michel Van der Poorten
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May 13, 2012
7:42 am

[...] in recounting its history of arranging high-profile contests between humans and computers, describes the tension [...]

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