Of chess and men: Why human contests still beat those with computers

November 8, 2013 6:43 pm

Of chess and men

Why human contests still beat those with computers

The world chess championship begins this weekend in the Indian city of Chennai, pitting veteran title-holder Viswanathan Anand against Norwegian wunderkindMagnus Carlsen. Their duel is the most anticipated chess match for a decade, yet it hides an oddity. Neither man is the world’s best player. That title belongs to a computer programme.In the game’s cold war-era pomp, contests for the world title genuinely did feature the planet’s top performers, as when American Bobby Fischer defeated Russia’s Boris Spassky in 1972. More recently, however, technology has revealed man’s shortcomings. Since 1997, when Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest non-mechanical player, was walloped by a contraption named Deep Blue, bytes not brains have ruled the 64 squares.

Today, even a half-decent programme would trounce either Mr Anand or Mr Carlsen. Yet rather than being a cause for Homo-sapien angst, this silicon supremacy should be welcomed – for returning the sport’s focus to vastly more engrossing human combat.

Competitions between elite chess machines do exist, but they are tedious affairs and attract little attention. The same would be true in other sports. Robots may one day excel at tennis, for instance, but their bouts would have none of the drama of a Wimbledon final. Where would be the fun in watching a driverless Formula 1 race?

Chess computers have their merits, albeit mostly as sparring partners to help humans sharpen their play. Yet it is the sight of two rival grandmasters struggling for supremacy over the board, as in Chennai this month, that makes the sport compelling.

Boris Spassky is once said to have been asked whether he preferred chess to sex, replying coyly: “It depends on the position.” But it depends on the opponent too. The battle between man and machine may have been lost. For pure excitement and spectacle, however, it remains checkmate for flesh and blood.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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