Garry Kasparov, perhaps the greatest chess player of all time, recently reviewed Diego Rasskin Gutman’s book, Chess Metaphors: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind. He details a recent competition that allowed player to team and to use computers. The results? Very surprising.
In 2005, the online chess-playing site Playchess.com hosted what it called a “freestyle” chess tournament in which anyone could compete in teams with other players or computers. Normally, “anti-cheating” algorithms are employed by online sites to prevent, or at least discourage, players from cheating with computer assistance. (I wonder if these detection algorithms, which employ diagnostic analysis of moves and calculate probabilities, are any less “intelligent” than the playing programs they detect.)
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.
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.
It’s fitting that when all the artificial barriers are dropped those that have excelled with the barriers in place no longer seem the strongest. Instead, those that can most readily learn to use all possible tools — especially the ones that were formerly prohibited — are the new victors.
The anology in social business is obvious: the companies that root out the conventions and habits that hold us back from using social tools and social networks will become the new victors in a world with new rules.