Monday, 21 October 2013

The Chess-Playing Alien

“Boards are rarely set up around his home, he adds, because he doesn't need them to train. Nor does he rely on computers as much as other leading players. "I use them to analyse my openings, but in tournaments my assumption is that I am the best player there. That is why I seek positions where computer analysis can't play that much of a role, or where I can analyse it better than a computer."” 
Nigel Farndale, ‘Magnus Carlsen: Grandmaster Flash’ 

“Carlsen has already been invited to take the role of a chess-playing alien from the future in the forthcoming new edition of the Star Trek movie franchise – an offer he turned down.” 
Nigel Short, ‘Magnus Carlsen and the Renaissance of Chess’

Between these two statements there is something like the beginning of a syllogism. From Charles Babbage to Alan Turing, chess has long been the paradigm of machine intelligence. When the hottest player on the planet talks about plotting moves that are beyond the understanding of a computer, he is thought of as an alien. We have been thinking of human intelligence through the lens of computers for so long now that to think unlike a machine is to be immediately suspected of inhumanity.