Reference Articles on Turing

What is Artificial Intelligence?

By Jack Copeland

© Copyright B.J. Copeland, May 2000



Some of AI's most conspicuous successes have been in chess, its oldest area of research.

In 1945 Turing predicted that computers would one day play "very good chess", an opinion echoed in 1949 by Claude Shannon of Bell Telephone Laboratories, another early theoretician of computer chess.

By 1958 Simon and Newell were predicting that within ten years the world chess champion would be a computer, unless barred by the rules. Just under 40 years later, on May 11 1997, in midtown Manhattan, IBM's Deep Blue beat the reigning world champion, Gary Kasparov, in a six-game match.

Critics question the worth of research into computer chess. MIT linguist Noam Chomsky has said that a computer program's beating a grandmaster at chess is about as interesting as a bulldozer's "winning" an Olympic weight-lifting competition. Deep Blue is indeed a bulldozer of sorts--its 256 parallel processors enable it to examine 200 million possible moves per second and to look ahead as many as fourteen turns of play.

The huge improvement in machine chess since Turing's day owes much more to advances in hardware engineering than to advances in AI. Massive increases in cpu speed and memory have meant that each generation of chess machine has been able to examine increasingly more possible moves. Turing's expectation was that chess-programming would contribute to the study of how human beings think. In fact, little or nothing about human thought processes has been learned from the series of projects that culminated in Deep Blue.

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