Man vs. Machine Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. It may sound quaint today, but not so long ago, computers battled humans for supremacy at the game of chess. The challenge of building a computer program capable of defeating the best of human-kind at chess was one of the original grand challenges of the fledgling field of artificial intelligence. On one side were dedicated scientists and hobbyists who invested decades of effort developing the software and hardware technology; on the other side were incredibly talented humans with only their determination and preparation to withstand the onslaught of technology.
The man versus machine battle in chess is a landmark in the history of technology. There are numerous books that document the technical aspects of this epic story. The human side is not often told. Few chess players are inclined to write about their man-machine encounters, other than annotating the games played.
This book brings the two sides together. It tells the stories of many of the key scientists and chess players that participated in a 50-year research project to advance the understanding of computing technology. "Grandmaster Karsten Müller and Professor Jonathan Schaeffer have managed to describe the fascinating history of the unequal fight of man against machine in an entertaining and instructive way. It evoked pleasant and not so pleasant memories of my own fights against the monsters.
I hope that their work gives you as much pleasure as it has given me." - From the Foreword by Vladimir Kramnik, 14th World Chess Champion
As with the above mentioned biography on Richter, this book has demanded an incredible amount of research. It has been written by Jonathan Schaeffer, who is a professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta in Canada. While probably not widely known in chess circles, he was behind the program Phoenix that tied for first in the 1986 World Computer Chess Championship and Polaris, which was the first program to compete against world–class poker players. His co-author is the renowned German endgame specialist and versatile chess writer, GM Karsten Müller. In its pages you will find accounts of the pioneering work of key scientists as they developed computer chess programs. The progress of the programs as they improved over the years is illustrated by a large number of man vs machine games, many of which are very well annotated. In fact these extend from the very early days of computer chess right up to the present day where the playing strength of merely “average” programs/engines exceeds the capabilities of even the best human chess players in the world.
The book is massive (450+ pages) and although it will not be everybody’s cup of tea, it is a remarkable and rewarding read for those who are interested in computer chess and its history.