I was making my usual circuit through the living room, on way to the kitchen to grab some soda and return to my lair for more netting, when I caught a 'Coming Soon!' blurb on the telly. It was the local news, and the voice-over was something like "The latest in the Deep Blue/Kasparov Match!", with the video image being of Kasparov looking dejected, head buried in his arms. My comment, blurted out to my Lady who was engrossed in Shanghai, was more-or-less "Heh. Looks like we won."
'We', of course, being Deep Blue.
Interesting, isn't it? My instinctive 'we' is the computer -- not the human. (It's worth noting that when my father took me to see 2001 when I was eight years old or so, I sobbed uncontrollably when they killed HAL. An omen of things to come...)
It's not only marginally odd that I consider the computer to be 'we' and Kasparov to be 'they'. It's odd I even used the "W-Word" at all. While I still have the instincts of the plains ape my not-too-distant ancestor was, I am by nature not a 'joiner'. I don't consider the local baseball team to be 'we', nor my ethnic group.
But we (there it is again) are plains apes, after all, and we are instinctively tribal. Perhaps the greatest revolution in the history of life was being able to define 'weness' (Hi, Chuck!) by abstractions like nation and religion and philosophy, rather than by genetic linkage. In other words, the move from gene to meme.
So why is Deep Blue 'we' and Kasparov 'they'?
The press, of course, is playing this whole affair as 'man vs. machine'. "What a terrible tragedy this is for mankind! Will we soon be replaced by machines? Fear! Panic! Buy more papers!"
But it wasn't "Man vs. Machine" -- the very concept is meaningless, if you think for a bit. It was "Man vs. Nature" -- with the man playing the role of Nature and the machine playing the role of Man.
Man won. And that's the 'we' I was instinctively allying myself with.
What is Kasparov? A lump of random chemicals, the result of five billion years of accidents. A random twist in the DNA, and his neurons line up to give him the potential to be a chess master. A few thousand tosses of the dice through his childhood, and that potential is realized. Certainly, a large part of his life is due to conscious decision and willful, directed, action, but it all occured in a framework -- the existence of humanity, and indeed this solar system -- formed by sheer mindless chance. That he was able to shape such chaos at all is a testament to both him and humanity.
What is Deep Blue? The product of purposeful design, the result of the human will turned towards a goal. It took nature five billion years to produce a glop of neurons which could play chess;it took humanity, at the most, a few hundred (from the first 'calculating clocks' of the 1600s).
When I said 'We won', I was unconsciously, but very meaningfully, placing myself on the same memetic team as the men and women who designed and programmed Deep Blue. I don't mean to claim I'm nearly on the same intellectual plane as they -- but then again, the couch potatoes who shout 'We won!' when 'their' team wins the World Series couldn't throw a baseball to save their life, either, so forgive me that indulgence.
What do those men and women represent? The best that mankind can be. Purpose, direction, drive, focus. Deep Blue didn't appear out of some primordial soup filled with transistors. The code was not typed by a million monkeys with a million copies of Microsoft Visual BASIC (Though I'm willing to bet Windows 95 was). Kasparov is a lucky accident -- a tiny twist to the genes and he could have been one of those sideshow freaks who can tell you what day of the week any given date falls on but can't remember his own name. Deep Blue is pure, absolute, unrelenting purpose. It exists because it was forced into existence out of a universe which would never permit it to occur by chance. It exists solely due to the freely chosen and deliberate acts of man.
What was Kasparov vs. Deep Blue about? Not 'man vs. machine'. Rather, design vs. randomness. Purpose vs. chance. Extropy vs. entropy.
The right side won.
Back To Main Page