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Twenty years after Deep Blue, what can AI do for us?

Peter Sayer | May 12, 2017
IBM built Deep Blue to win at chess -- but since then has taken a collaborative, rather than competitive, approach to artificial intelligence.


On May 11, 1997, a computer showed that it could outclass a human in that most human of pursuits: playing a game. The human was World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, and the computer was IBM's Deep Blue, which had begun life at Carnegie Mellon University as a system called ChipTest.

One of Deep Blue's creators, Murray Campbell, talked to the IDG News Service about the other things computers have learned to do as well as, or better than, humans, and what that means for our future. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

IDGNS: Is it true that you and Deep Blue joined IBM at the same time?

Murray Campbell: Not exactly true. A group of us, including myself, joined IBM from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1989, but we didn't come up with the name Deep Blue until about a year later.

IDGNS: And was building Deep Blue a full-time job?

MC: From when I joined until the 1997 match with the world champion that was my job, to build and improve Deep Blue.

IDGNS: It's said that one of the reasons Deep Blue beat Kasparov was that it had a bug that caused it to play a strange move that somehow psyched him out.

MC: I'm not sure if that's a valid theory or not. What happened was that, at the end of the first game of the match, Deep Blue was destined to lose. It had a losing position but the game could have gone on for quite some time. Kasparov would have had to prove that he knew how to win the position, which of course, I'm sure he was capable of doing. But Deep Blue, due to a bug, played a random move, and the random move was a particularly bad move, and so as soon as Kasparov responded we resigned for Deep Blue.

There was some speculation at some point that this caused Kasparov to not have a good picture of what Deep Blue could and could not do in the game of chess. I think it's just speculation.

IDGNS: How did the bug come about? Were you able to figure out what caused it?

MC: Yes, we did figure it out and fixed it, although we didn't fix it until after the second game, so it was in there for game two as well. Of course, it didn't happen then: It was very rare.

It only appeared under certain circumstances: Deep Blue was given an allotment of time to calculate a move and if it ran out of time in a certain way, it could cause it to play a random move. We had seen that bug a few months earlier and thought we'd fixed it. I think we'd fixed four of the five ways it could happen but we missed one of them. So, of course, on a world stage, it popped up again.


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