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In nontechnical, conversational prose, Feng-hsiung Hsu, the system architect of Deep Blue, tells us how he and a small team of fellow researchers forged ahead at IBM with a project they'd begun as students at Carnegie Mellon in the mid-1980s: the search for one of the oldest holy grails in artificial intelligence--a machine that could beat any human chess player in a bona fide match. Back in 1949 science had conceived the foundations of modern chess computers but not until almost fifty years later--until Deep Blue--would the quest be realized.
Hsu refutes Kasparov's controversial claim that only human intervention could have allowed Deep Blue to make its decisive, "uncomputerlike" moves. In riveting detail he describes the heightening tension in this war of brains and nerves, the "smoldering fire" in Kasparov's eyes. Behind Deep Blue is not just another tale of man versus machine. This fascinating book tells us how man as genius was given an ultimate, unforgettable run for his mind, no, not by the genius of a computer, but of man as toolmaker.
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Hsu was a computer science graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, having emigrated from Taiwan in 1982. A member of the Artificial Intelligence faculty asked him in 1985 to help with the design of a chess machine. Hsu and his team, approached the task as an engineering challenge, not as an attempt at artificial intelligence. He took the project with him when he finished academia and moved to IBM. The engineering challenges spelled out here over a fifteen year period are enormously complicated. In the eventual machine, "...every single one of those 36,000 transistors for the chess move generator was drawn by hand on a computer. I also hand routed every single wire on the chip." The climax of the book, of course, is the 1997 six game rematch, played on a Deep Blue that could hunt out 200 million moves in a second. The excitement before the match was considerable; tickets were being scalped for $500 and a security guard was even punched by a photographer eager to snap a picture of the opponents at the table.
At one point, Hsu writes about a shockingly aggressive move made by the computer, "Deep Blue obviously had no idea that it was playing Garry Kasparov." With good humor, Hsu reflects on the paradox of an insensate machine eventually defeating possibly the best human player ever (never having lost a previous match). "Is it intelligent?" people wanted to know from Hsu after the famous contest. Hsu knows: "Deep Blue is not intelligent. It is only a finely-crafted tool that exhibits intelligent behavior in a limited domain." Nonetheless, this is an insider's view of a fascinating achievement. Deep Blue may only be a finely-crafted tool that cannot really think, but it has given its humans plenty to think about.
Hsu tells a very fascinating story. It is not just about chess and computers however. It is the story of a young immigrant who comes to the US to study, and ends up doing something that is of a major historical significance in the minds of many people.
This book was a real page turner. I did not want to put it down. I thought the path leading Hsu to work on chess programs was fascinating. He made a suggestion to the leading computer chess professor who did not like it. This inspired him to implement the idea. It was a case of several things coming together, which ended up leading to the creation of a great computer project.
Hsu's story of hard work was very inspiring. I liked how he did not consider the match to be "man vs machine", but man as a toolmaker vs man as a performer. If you found the Deep Blue matches interesting, you will certainly enjoy this book.