We take AI for granted these days, but once upon a time, there had to be a first human to be bested by tech, and that man was famed chess champion Garry Kasparov. On February 10th, 1996, Kasparov lost his first game to IBM’s super computer, Deep Blue. Faith sits down with Tyler to talk about AI, chess, and how being the best human is still a pretty dope place to hold.
(THE FRONTIER THEME PLAYS)
Tyler, welcome back to The Frontier Podcast. (Tyler: Thank you.) You’ve been here a bunch. You know the drill, but this is season three.
Couple like, new forms of episodes this season. The one I’m most excited about is what we’re recording today, which we’re calling “This Week in Tech History,” and it is where we talk about something that happened this week in tech history.
It’s really terrible.
Said it a few times, but it stuck with me, so I think it’s maybe effective. So that’s good.
Yeah, I have a lot of like, I don’t know what the word is, maybe just like, love for words that have a “TH” in them, because I feel like we understand each other. (Tyler: <Laugh>.) Like, my name is really hard for some people to say, (Tyler: Mmm.) especially if English isn’t your first language. (Tyler: True.) And “TH”… actually “F” and “TH” are pretty much impossible to discern over the phone. (Tyler: Mmm.) Like, when somebody asks me for my name over the phone, and I say, “Faith,” they’re like, “Oh yeah, Dave. Got it.” So me and twith, we have something in common, which is maybe why I’m excited for these episodes, but… (Tyler: Yup.)
We’re gonna talk about a fact today. It’s a random tech history fact. I’m gonna read what happened this week in tech history and we’re both gonna learn something. Everyone who’s listening is gonna learn something, and then we’re just gonna shoot the shit about what the thing is, why we think it was important, what kinds of changes it may or may not have spurred, and how we can see the impacts of that event playing out today. And this one’s especially relevant, because AI has been dominating, at least my newsfeed, for the last couple months.
Wait, what’s AI?
<Laugh>. What’s AI? (Tyler: I’m just kidding.) <Laugh>. Oh, man. Okay. So this week in tech history, (UPBEAT SYNTHESIZER MUSIC) the thing that happened was Deep Blue won its first game against Gary Kasparov on February 10th, 1996. IBM’s supercomputer, Deep Blue, became the first computer program to defeat a world champion in a classical game under tournament regulations. I love that, just, qualifier. They could, they did not cheat <laugh>. Considering that between the years of 1984 and 2005, he was ranked number one in the world for 255 overall months, this was no small feat. He, meaning Gary. This win by Deep Blue was significant because it marked the first time in computing history that an artificially designed intelligence system approached the complex capabilities of the human brain. Would we call our capabilities complex? I’m not sure. My brain is a little…it’s pretty black and white in there. But, because there are a limited number of possible moves, albeit in the millions in a chess game, Deep Blue was able to calculate its moves based on cycling through a large number of possibilities and choosing the move with the highest probability of leading to a winning outcome. It’s often referred to as “brute computational force.” Wow, what a term (Tyler: True.) <laugh>. I can’t wait. The next time I send you like, a spreadsheet to review, I’m gonna be like, get ready for some brute computational force.
Well, we already know the human mind is limited
<Laugh>. It’s true. It’s true. Well, Deep Blue ultimately did not win the sixth game match. Kasparov won 4 to 2. The two had a rematch from May 3rd to 11th. Why did it have to be a week long? I don’t know. In 1997. In that match, Deep Blue won two games when Kasparov resigned and gained another match and a half when the two parties mutually agreed on a draw for three other matches. Wow. Deep Blue ultimately won 3 and a half to 2 and a half <laugh>. I didn’t know you could get half scores in chess, but wow. Deep Blue coming through with the chess wins. (Tyler: Hmm.) First of all, Tyler <laugh>, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Gary Kasparov. You are coming in hot off (Tyler: Oh boy.) two-hundred and fifty-five, actually, at this point, it was really just like 10 years of him being number one in the world in chess. And you get beat by a computer. And this isn’t like a, this isn’t a 2023 computer. This is a 1996 big ol’ box computer.
It’s filling the room. I’m just kidding. It’s probably not quite that big, but…
At least a desk.
It’s not the 70s.
How do you feel?
Okay, so I actually don’t think, if I’m Gary, which I’m not, but I’m number one in the world, so if I get beat, everyone else is getting beat more quickly or more easily than me. So I’m sort of like, this is just technology improving, right? Like, I don’t know that it’s a slight, I mean, other than maybe to his pride to some extent. (Faith: Yeah.) But nobody else in the world is better than you, so you’re still the best human on the planet that can play chess. I ran track growing up, was never great, but if I was, and I was the fastest in the world, and then I, all of a sudden, I get beat by a robot, I’m like, well, it’s a robot. I mean, (Faith: Hmm.) I don’t know that I’m that like, upset.
Yeah. (Tyler: You know what I mean?) That makes sense, yeah. You’re not like, pissed. As a runner, you’re not like, well, there’s a Lamborghini that can go zero to 300 <laugh>. (Tyler: <Laugh>.) You know? So maybe that’s the same thing, I guess.
I’m sure to some extent there’s some embarrassment, because technology, I mean, maybe not. I’m totally reading into this, but you know, for you to be number one in the world and then to get beat by a computer, that’s, I’m sure that made a lot of headlines and might have been like, a slight on, again, like his performance in the game. But at the same time, I think today, with where technology is and how it’s advanced and how rapidly it’s advancing, like, we would look at that and go, “Yeah, there’s a lot of things today that a computer can do better than a human.” Obviously not everything, but there’s a lot. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, right? It’s sort of like, they alluded to in the article, computational power, and then chess. Like, that’s an easy thing to attack, as they said. You know, even though there’s millions of moves, it’s still computation, so…
Yeah. And I always, when I’m doing these “This Week in Tech History,” it’s so easy to compare the thing, the historical event to what we know to be possible today. (Tyler: Hmm <affirmative>.) And it’s kind of like, yeah, well, no shit. AI can win a chess match, obviously. But Abbey shared this fact, so this win kind of set the stage for Google to develop AlphaGo, and they set out to be able to win an even harder game, which is the Chinese game of Go, which also incorporates, it’s not just like, brute computational force, but it also incorporates intuition and creativity, which of course, like, those are like new, new skills, I guess we would call them, of AI.
Well, yeah. It’s just harder to quantify.
Right, so Google wasn’t able to win a game of Go until 2016. The AlphaGo wasn’t able to win a game of Go until 2016, which is 20 years after Deep Blue won the game against Gary Kasparov.
Google DeepMind Challenge commentator, Michael Redmond (07:59):
Since AlphaGo teaches itself, it might be sort of difficult to find out why these moves are being played. (Commentator, Chris Garlock: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) They do lose ko threats, so there’s a real loss in some cases. This kind of thing would be losing points, too, and so there is an implied loss in playing such moves, also. And I think it would be good if they could be weeded out.
Commentator, Chris Garlock (08:25):
Do we have a res…do we have a…I wonder if we have a resignation here.
Commentator, Michael Redmond (08:31):
It could be that Lee Sedol has resigned.
Commentator, Chris Garlock (08:34):
Yeah, Lee has, I’m getting word Lee has resigned, (Michael Redmond: Yes.) as you said, I believe a couple points behind.
Commentator, Michael Redmond (08:38):
Ah, it’s a pity. I would’ve liked to see the counting.
Commentator, Chris Garlock (08:41):
Yeah. Yeah, we’ll get an official count at some point, but I’m gonna trust Michael’s count on this.
Yeah, that’s super interesting.
Yeah, it’s like, it, to me, is a prime example of, what’s the graph called? It’s the technological advancement where it’s like steady, steady, nice and slow, and then there’s kind of like, one or two major changes and–
Yeah. Stepwise change, yeah.
Yes. And then it’s just like a vertical leap, (Tyler: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and I feel like we’ve really seen that over the last five to eight years. But yeah, up until like 2016, I feel like we were still on that more horizontal growth trajectory, right?
Well, and I almost wonder too, like, I mean, yeah, I think there’s truth to that, but it would’ve been interesting to see, and I’m sure you could go back and look, but the reaction like, culturally, to Deep Blue beating Kasparov, right, for the first time.
Pepsi commercial voice actor (09:38):
This has been a classic confrontation, this afternoon, of man versus machine. Oh, there it is, and Kasparov has soundly defeated the Neutron 9000.
Gary Kasparov (09:50):
Thank you. Thank you. I find it amusing. All machines are just wires, nuts, and bolts. They’re stupid by nature. (COMMERCIAL CONTINUES WITH VARIOUS MACHINE SOUNDS).
I think we, at least in the Western world, have a tendency to maybe overdramatize like, events like that. And I would be interested to go back and unpack like, what were the articles? Like, what did they think at that point? AI was gonna take over the world, and there’s always a question about how that affects jobs and, you know? Was it a big question mark? Or, you know, were people really scared about the future of technology and AI after something like that happens? That, you know, sort of hits the world stage as a stepwise change, right. Relative to human ability. So, like you said, there’s a span of 20 years before AI could advance well enough to beat a game of Go. (Faith: Hmm.) So it obviously doesn’t happen maybe as fast as sometimes we think, but it would’ve been interesting to unpack, sort of, the response to that.
Yeah. Well, I feel like one of the most obvious pop culture responses would be the Matrix, (Tyler: Mmm.) right? (Tyler: Yeah.) And the Matrix came out in ‘99, so that’s three years later. And, fun fact about me, I watched The Matrix for the first time two weeks ago <laugh>.
So this is fresh <laugh>. But I feel like the, I don’t think this is a hot take, the sentiment in the Matrix is like, AI’s terrifying, and we all need to to run, right? (Tyler: Yep. Yeah.) Like, there’s really, there’s not many other ways to analyze that movie, so I would suspect (Tyler: <Laugh>.) that that’s reflective of like, maybe public opinion of AI at the time, which is like, we don’t know how, but this is gonna ruin our lives.
Yeah, and that’s sort of the interesting thing, I think, looking forward from here, right? Is we’re…it feels like we’re on the cusp of another big advancement, at least with respect to transportation.
Yeah. You know, with, obviously, we’ve got, you know, self-driving cars that have been, you know, really in like, test mode, but in flight in certain metros, already, in the U.S. I think Phoenix, you know, you’ve got companies like Waymo, who are already…and there’s a few others that are testing, sort of, I mean, legitimately self-driving, where there’s a car that shows up with no driver, and you get in, and it takes you to the next thing, and (Faith: Yikes.) you know? And so, it feels like we’re close to a change of that becoming more normal, and all that goes with that, right? Like, the trust. Are people willing to, sort of, put their lives in the hands of an algorithm and sensors, right? I don’t know, it’s…that’s really fascinating. So, but it feels, to me, like we’re on maybe another change, but I also recognize that maybe that’s like, a tendency to always think, is that you’re on the cusp of like a, some big breakthrough when you’re actually (Faith: Yeah.) still a ways out.
No, I mean, I think <laugh>, I don’t think that’s a hot take. I think we’re certainly like, in the midst of an AI revolution. Like, just the fact that ChatGPT is accessible to the public now, it’s impacting the way I’m thinking about budget allocation and strategy of our dinky marketing team. (Tyler: Hmm.) Because I’m thinking out, a year from now, will people be using search engines or will we be optimizing internet content, not for users finding it on a search engine, so SEO, but for AI to pick it up and–
Yeah. Like, ingest-ability.
Right, exactly. And how do we even begin to build a strategy around that when it’s still, you know, a fairly unknown space, at least for little me. So, (Tyler: Yeah.) I think we’re in it for sure. And I mean, everybody’s writing about implications of AI, and I think it’s all valid. Like, transportation is maybe like a bigger, more societal example, but I think like, education is interesting. Like, you’ll hear, kind of, two sides of the table. One is like, AI is gonna make, kind of like, writing and like, any sort of academic skill, irrelevant or unnecessary. But I think the flip side of that coin is like, AI will allow us to learn at a faster clip than ever, right?
Yeah. One thing that I will be interested to see, how it impacts, I think like, society is, you know, by its nature, at least today, AI is really a function of what it can ingest and then learn and derive from that, which, and all of that largely is produced by us as people, right? (Faith: Mm-Hmm <affirmative>.) And so, to your point of like, do…if those skills go away, if there’s less writing or original thought that’s produced, does the knowledge base start to degrade over time, or does it not improve at the same rate? (Faith: Mm-Hmm <affirmative>.) I don’t know, right? Like, I’m not, I haven’t spent enough hours. There’s people way more knowledgeable about than me, but it’s an interesting question, I think, to consider. And maybe that’s just a method, today, of how AI functions, and that’ll wholly change within the next, you know, decade or two. But…
Yeah, I’ll tell you what, I’m very excited to not have to write quite as much copy <laugh> in the future. So if that’s a part of my job that AI can replace, I’d be thrilled.
Yeah. You do it well. I think all of the readers of The Wayfarer would agree.
Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s fun. I just mean like, microcopy. Like, deciding between (Tyler: Right, right.) two very similar propositions. It’s like, well…
<Laugh> Yeah. AI can tell you which is more effective, (Faith: <Laugh>.) and conversion. So, there you go.
(THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) Yeah, well this has been fun, and it has also inspired me to relearn how to play chess. So maybe that’ll be my weekend activity this weekend.
Yeah. And what was the Netflix show? Anya Taylor…(Faith: Queen’s Gambit?) Queen’s Gambit, yeah. (Faith: Yes.) That was great. If you haven’t watched it, I’m sure most people have by now, it’s been out a while, but it was very good.
It was excellent. (Tyler: I enjoyed it.) We endorse it here at The Frontier podcast.
Faith (voiceover) (16:40):
Thanks for listening to the Frontier Podcast, powered by Gun.io. We drop two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @thefrontierpod, and we’ll see you next week.
Wow. Number one in the world for like 21 years.
That’s a lot of months.
Yeah. Also, shout out to Abbey, who wrote this, for giving that to me in months and not years. (Tyler: <Laugh>.) Would’ve been–
Two-hundred and fifty-five months.
<Laugh>. It’s like, people…how old’s your child? Instead of saying 21–
<Laugh>, they just never, they never switch. They start in months and then it’s never changed.
That’s it. That’s it.