I’m working a bit under the weather this week, so: here’s a pretty great video which you may have seen elsewhere. Chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley challenges a NYC chess hustler to a game, without revealing his true identity. Got to wonder what the hustler thought about being on camera, but setting that aside, it’s a great clip and well worth your five minutes.
I first saw this video on Boingboing a while back, but when Shut Up and Sit Down reblogged it, they added this link to the actual game played, which is a whole different kind of interesting. My last exposure to computerized chess was, god, a little over a decade now. As you walk through the game (right and left arrows move you forward and back, respectively), note how the move list in the left sidebar indicates when each player makes a mistake—not a rules mistake, to be clear, but a tactical or strategic mistake, according to the computer’s calculation.
Also really cool: the health bar beside the board, and the graph beneath, registering the positional advantage of black and white. You can actually see, move by move, how white loses! It’s one thing to know, in theory, that positional chess play requires developing pieces and controlling the center of the board. It’s another to see white take a huge dive in the graph at move 15 when they play Nh2. This sort of thing really makes clear why people are excited about the Alpha Go result—better computer play offers human players a deeper understanding of a beloved game, and develops the art overall.
(Food for thought, though no guarantees about nutritional content of said food: to what extent is a computer capable of placing the correct moves in a Go game, or a chess game, actually performing the activity humans reflexively describe as “playing go”? A professional chess player develops patience, mental endurance, and profound mental habits required to bend her omnivore-scavenger brain to the profoundly non-omnivore-scavenger activity of staring at a game board for several hours at a time, oblivious to any potential predators creeping up behind. These are additional “rules” to the game as played by humans—or at least, they’re constraints to which human players are subjected. “Learning to play chess,” for a human, is really “learning how to navigate human embodied cognition in such a way as to win a chess game.” Is a hydraulic car-moving robot stronger than a champion weightlifter? On paper it can move more weight. But I suspect we use the word “strong” to mean different things in different contexts.)
(In case this isn’t clear, what I’m not doing here is attempting to qualify away AlphaGo, or computational chess playing, or hydraulic car-moving robots. They’re all obviously accomplishing the tasks for which they were designed! There’s no room in a checkmate for qualia. But along the way, I think developments in artificial intelligence reveal unexamined assumptions about the nature of the tasks they’re designed to confront—they force us to ponder the context of thought.)
(I suppose I for one am supposed to welcome our new robot overlords at this stage in the conversation, aren’t I?)
Setting that aside, news!
- In the greater Boston area? Come see me interview Brian Staveley at Brookline Booksmith on 3/24! Staveley’s a sharp, brilliant writer and has a handshake that could crush coal into diamonds. Come out and have fun! Possibly acquire diamonds!
- Hugo Nominations are open! My bibliography is sort of up-to-date, but let’s reinforce that, shall we?
- Last First Snow came out in 2015!
- Also I wrote a number of novelettes, also known as Bookburners episodes! I’m particularly proud of episode seven, Now and Then, but Badge, Book, and Candle is nice too.
- I’m also eligible for Fan Writer. Top posts from last year: Why Agent Carter Feels Like Coming Home, Fighting Words: Thoughts on Prose Style and John Wick, Galactic History or Galactic Folk Tale (the Star Wars academic protest letter fic)
- All that aside, 2015 was a fantastic year for the genre. And helpful humans have assembled a wiki for eligible works! Go ye and explore, and also—if you can nominate—do!
Thanks as ever. Also: check out today’s episode of #ColdWitch!