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Chess, that inscrutably challenging game, with more possible game states than there are atoms in the Universe, was no longer a canvas for individual human achievement. Why was the loss so upsetting to so many?
Not because chess is complicated, per se — calculating differential equations is complicated, and we are happy to cede the work to computers — but because chess is creative. Chess was a foil, a plane of endeavour, for storytellers as diverse as Vladimir Nabokov and Satyajit Ray, and we celebrate its grandmasters as remarkable synthesisers of logic and creativity.
It was particularly galling, then, for Kasparov to lose to a machine based not on its creativity but its efficiency Newsweek photo essay analysing billions of possible moves.
One might argue that its victory not only knocked humanity down a peg but demonstrated that chess itself is not, or does not have to be, the aesthetic space we imagined it.
And not just against them: The humans maintain strategic control of the game while automating the memorisation and basic calculation on which great chess depends.
As Kasparov described an early such match: Having a computer partner also meant never having to worry about making a tactical blunder. The computer could project the consequences of each move we considered, pointing out possible outcomes and countermoves we might otherwise have missed.
With that taken care of for us, we could concentrate on strategic planning instead of spending so much time on calculations. Human creativity was even more paramount under these conditions. Freestyle teams can easily defeat both top grandmasters and chess programs, and some of the best centaur teams are made up of amateur players who have created better processes for combining human and machine intelligence.
These centaur games are beautiful. The quality of play is higher, the noise of simple human errors reduced, making space for the kind of pure contest that the platonic solids and geometries of chess idealise.
We are all centaurs now, our aesthetics continuously enhanced by computation. Every photograph I take on my smartphone is silently improved by algorithms the second after I take it.
Every document autocorrected, every digital file optimised. Musicians complain about the death of competence in the wake of Auto-Tunejust as they did in the wake of the synthesiser in the s.
It is difficult to think of a medium where creative practice has not been thoroughly transformed by computation and an attendant series of optimisations. The most profound changes have occurred in fields such as photography, where the technical knowledge required to produce competent photographs has been almost entirely eclipsed by creative automation.
Even the immediacy of live performance gets bracketed by code through social media and the screens we watch while recording events that transpire right before our eyes.PHOTO ESSAY: Jeff Sessions Is Latest Conservative Depicted as Evil, Shadowy Villain on Liberal Magazine Cover President Trump on Newsweek in a ridiculous hit piece.
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