Friday, January 22, 2010

Chess and Tool Use

This article has a very important anecdote:

In 2005, the online chess-playing site hosted what it called a "freestyle" chess tournament in which anyone could compete in teams with other players or computers. ...

Lured by the substantial prize money, several groups of strong grandmasters working with several computers at the same time entered the competition. At first, the results seemed predictable. The teams of human plus machine dominated even the strongest computers. The chess machine Hydra, which is a chess-specific supercomputer like Deep Blue, was no match for a strong human player using a relatively weak laptop. Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer was overwhelming.

That is interesting enough.  But it gets better:

The surprise came at the conclusion of the event. The winner was revealed to be not a grandmaster with a state-of-the-art PC but a pair of amateur American chess players using three computers at the same time. Their skill at manipulating and "coaching" their computers to look very deeply into positions effectively counteracted the superior chess understanding of their grandmaster opponents and the greater computational power of other participants. Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.

This is what the future will look like.  Human entrepreneurs will use new technological tools to find ways to overcome both the existing experts and machines working alone.

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