[Humanist] 23.596 Kasparov's wolf

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jan 25 07:30:41 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 596.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 24 Jan 2010 08:23:45 -0700
        From: Sterling Fluharty <phdinhistory at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.592 Kasparov's wolf
        In-Reply-To: <20100124085041.2090C486D2 at woodward.joyent.us>


I was intrigued by the point you shared about humans now playing chess  
more and more like computers.  Of course the noble dream of AI has  
long been that computers would make breakthroughs in figuring out and  
emulating how humans play chess.  I actually subscribe to neither of  
these views.  For me, human chess players have now entered a self- 
feedback loop where they are imitating cariactures of themselves that  
computer scientists invented in the 1960s and 1970s when they grossly  
underestimated what it meant to be human.  As I see it, chess offers a  
reductionist view of humans by privileging a militaristic mindset  
that, in its most extreme forms, is cold, calculating, and  
constraining.  After all, the game of chess was designed so that  
language, perhaps our greatest hallmark as humans, was superfluous. So  
I take exception when chess is characterized as an "ancient game  
symbolic of human thought." As long as AI and chess researchers ignore  
the ways of human thought that flourish within the humanities, they  
will fail in their quest for the singularity.  And so it comes as no  
surprise to me that innovation and creativity in AI and chess research  
have given way to incrementalism and capitalistic thinking.  But it  
would sure be great to see more digital and computational humanists  
weighing in on this stalemate debate and offering solutions that help  
set AI free from the cages of its cariacture constructions.

Best wishes,
Sterling Fluharty

Sent from my iPhone

On Jan 24, 2010, at 1:50 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk 
 > wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 592.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Sat, 23 Jan 2010 10:20:08 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: sometimes there is a wolf
> We highly educated sorts have all kinds of sophisticated mental  
> routines for
> turning aside just about anything whose point would discomfort us.  
> (Milton's
> portrait of Satan comes to mind.) We have the "o tempora, o mores"  
> gambit
> covered in all its variations. Since we've lost the conventional  
> language
> for expressing the idea that humanity is damned but not the evidence  
> which
> still suggests that idea, "o tempora, o mores" hasn't much of an  
> edge to
> begin with. It's bound to be unpopular in a techno-centric age.  And  
> since
> it's usually the older ones who proclaim it -- those who are  
> themselves
> speedily going to Hell in a handbasket -- the lament really does  
> have an
> uphill battle to wage before attention can be drawn to whatever the  
> problem
> is. But sometimes, you know, there really is somethingto pay  
> attention to.
> My thanks to Wendell Piez, as so often in the past, for the pointer to
> something worthy of our attention, in this case to Gary Kasparov's  
> review of
> Diego Rasskin-Gutman's Chess Metaphors in the NYRB for 11 February,  
> 57.2,
> www.nybooks.com/articles/23592. His observation that humans are now  
> playing
> chess more and more like computers adds to the accumulating store of
> observations and arguments along those lines. But what grabs me even  
> more is
> his explication of "our last chess metaphor":
>> a metaphor for how we have discarded innovation and creativity in
>> exchange for a steady supply of marketable products. The dreams of
>> creating an artificial intelligence that would engage in an ancient
>> game symbolic of human thought have been abandoned. Instead, every
>> year we have new chess programs, and new versions of old ones, that
>> are all based on the same basic programming concepts for picking a
>> move by searching through millions of possibilities that were
>> developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Like so much else in our
>> technology-rich and innovation-poor modern world, chess computing has
>> fallen prey to incrementalism and the demands of the market.
>> Brute-force programs play the best chess, so why bother with anything
>> else? Why waste time and money experimenting with new and innovative
>> ideas when we already know what works? Such thinking should horrify
>> anyone worthy of the name of scientist, but it seems, tragically, to
>> be the norm. Our best minds have gone into financial engineering
>> instead of real engineering, with catastrophic results for both
>> sectors.
> Instead of Cicero's lament perhaps we should address those who shape
> our part of the world with "For shame!" and ourselves feel ashamed
> whenever the shoe fits?
> But a moment more of your time. No doubt that sense of shame would be
> healthy all around as a corrective to the shameless  
> commercialisation of
> universities, but I wonder if more isn't involved here.
> What would delight the Kasparovs among us? What would we regard as a
> scientifically or intellectually respectable result? Clearly the  
> opposite of
> "brute-force" automation: an mathematically elegant algorithm, the  
> simpler
> the better, that would with a minimum number of steps artifically  
> reason its
> way to check-mate. We'd then forgive the massive computing power  
> required
> and rejoice in the brilliance of the (human) idea, yes? Because this  
> is how
> we think we work. This is our intelligence (neverminding the fact  
> that we
> don't know the steps by which it is achieved).
> But is this the way, or the only way, that computing behaves when it  
> is most
> successful? Compare, for example, how we once thought perfect
> information-retrieval would work -- before Google. (Somewhere Terry  
> Winograd
> speaks of his great surprise as a conventionally trained computer  
> scientist
> by the success of its approach.) Consider the effects of very dumb  
> searches
> in JSTOR and its kind, precisely due to the fact that their  
> "precision" is
> so poor.
> So, if your interest is on the cognitive science side of things,  
> wanting to
> know what computing can tell us about cognition, isn't the gulf  
> between
> brute-force chess and Kasparovian chess valuable? Do we welcome the  
> wolf?
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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