Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Towards Solving Chess … and a Technological Singularity?

From the dawn of the computer-chess era to the present, numerous advances on both the hardware side as well as on the software side have occurred. Indeed, technology in general has advanced at a rapid pace during the past 60 years. Where will Moore’s Law ultimately lead humanity?[1][2] What role might the game of chess play in shaping the future of mankind?

Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.
If we are to believe the predictions of certain futurists, a technological singularity will occur sometime in the 21st century. Although there are competing schools of thought concerning the nature of the Singularity, many Singularity Theorists agree that the creation of smarter-than-human artificial intelligence is possible if not inevitable[3][4] and such a development will usher in a new era of extremely rapid technological progress. According to Dr. Vernor Vinge:

When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities -- on a still-shorter time scale.
The game of chess also makes an appearance in a number of the writings of Singularity Theorists (see here, here, here, here). Dr. Vinge, in his NASA sponsored 1993 paper, even goes so far as to identify a human + computer symbiosis in chess (i.e. advanced chess) as a key project that might “serve to advance us toward the Singularity along the IA Path.” Dr. Vinge wrote:
When people speak of creating superhumanly intelligent beings, they are usually imagining an AI project. But as I noted at the beginning of this paper, there are other paths to superhumanity. Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than AI, and yet they could lead to the Singularity. I call this contrasting approach Intelligence Amplification (IA). IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. …
Here are some possible projects that take on special significance, given the IA point of view:

Allow human/computer teams at chess tournaments. We already have programs that can play better than almost all humans. But how much work has been done on how this power could be used by a human, to get something even better? If such teams were allowed in at least some chess tournaments, it could have the positive effect on IA research that allowing computers in tournaments had for the corresponding niche in AI.
If the Singularity Theorists are correct then chess may be more than just a past time; chess may hold a key to the future of humanity. The Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (OECO) is but one project that promotes research into human + computer partnerships in chess. Everyone is welcome to join today to become an OECO contributor and/or to express their appreciation for the creation of a user + computer generated encyclopedia of chess openings.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Advanced Chess Supercomputer?

In a 2006 paper, Professor Yochai Benkler wrote “a novel system of production … has produced … the fastest supercomputer.” The novel system of production to which Benkler was referring is commons-based peer production and the supercomputer that Benkler had in mind is the SETI@home project. Can the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings effectively harness the power of commons-based peer production to create the equivalent of an advanced chess supercomputer?
Commons-based peer production (CBPP) is “a socio-economic system of production that is emerging in the digitally networked environment. Facilitated by the technical infrastructure of the Internet, the hallmark of this socio-technical system is collaboration among large groups of individuals, sometimes in the order of tens or even hundreds of thousands, who cooperate effectively to provide information, knowledge or cultural goods without relying on either market pricing or managerial hierarchies to coordinate their common enterprise [emphasis mine]” (Benkler 2006).
The SETI@home project is an example of both commons-based peer production and distributed computing. This project “is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The data sets collected from large radio telescope observations are immense. The project was organized to harness the computer processing cycles of millions of volunteers with computers connected to the Internet to process these vast data sets. Participants download a small free program that functions as a screen saver when they are not using their computers. At that point, it downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. According to statistics maintained on the SETI@home website, as of August, 2003, the project had absorbed over 4.5 million users from 226 countries, and provided an average computation speed almost twice that of the fastest “supercomputer” then in operation in the world” (Benkler 2006).
While the SETI@home project requires relatively little effort from the end-user besides downloading and installing the BOINC program, other CBPP projects involve a greater amount of active participation by project participants. Take, for example, the NASA Clickworkers experiment. “In this project, tens of thousands of individual volunteers collaborated in five-minute increments to map and classify Mars’s craters, performing tasks that would normally require full-time PhDs working for months on end, freeing those scientists for more analytic tasks” (Benkler 2006).
The Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings provides yet another means by which individuals can direct their otherwise underutilized energies and the unused computing power of their computers towards productive ends that produce value for other members of society. As Benkler wrote in a different paper, “peer production draws effort that in many cases would otherwise have been used in purely non-productive consumption—say, watching television instead of marking craters on Mars, ranking websites for the Open Directory Project, or authoring entries for Wikipedia. On a macro level of social productivity, then, an economic system that incorporates peer production as one component in its production system will add a vehicle for tapping effort pools that would otherwise not be used productively at all” (Benkler 2002).
Everyone is welcome to join the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings and to participate alongside other human+computer teams as we analyze and map the topical variations of opening variations. Come be a part of the world’s first advanced chess supercomputer. 

Benkler, Yochai. (2002), Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm. The Yale Law Journal 112(3)
Benkler, Y. and Nissenbaum, H. (2006), Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue. Journal of Political Philosophy, 14: 394–419. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2006.00235.x

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Towards Perfecting Advanced Chess

A relatively new mode of social production (i.e. commons-based peer production) is now being used to generate chess opening theory and to extend opening theory deep into the middle game. The result may be a more advanced form of advanced chess.

Advanced chess is a form of competitive chess, popularized by Garry Kasparov, in which at least one human pairs together with at least one computer chess program to form a team. Teams of human + computer then compete against other human + computer teams. Ideally, advanced chess combines the strongest attributes of human chess players with the strongest attributes of computer chess programs. The resulting quality of chess produced by a human/computer advanced chess team is often considered to be superior to that which could have been produced by either a lone human grandmaster or a lone computer program.

While computer chess programs are generally recognized to excel in positions requiring tactical precision, computer programs nevertheless suffer the handicap of having blindness beyond their move horizon. Humans, on the other hand, frequently display superiority in judging positions where strategic insight is crucial. However, humans are demonstrably inferior to computer programs in most tactically complex situations.

The combination of human + computer program produces a chess playing entity which is able to expertly sail through the sea of tactical complications while also anticipating the ocean beyond the computer program’s move horizon.

So, what could possibly produce a higher quality of chess than that produced by a team of humans paired together with the strongest chess programs? The answer may lie simply in the creation of an advanced chess peer-review process.

This advanced chess peer-review process is the foundation upon which the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (OECO) is built. Advanced chess teams (human + computer) analyze chess positions and add the resulting analysis to the OECO wiki. This analysis is public and subject to review by other teams of humans plus computers.

In this way, the OECO brings together a community of human minds, each with its own unique chess perspective, and a variety of computer programs, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, in order to continually and relentlessly iron out all of the wrinkles (i.e. mistakes) of the collective body of existing analysis. Computer analysis guided by human judgment is followed by counter-analysis and counter-judgment in a dialectical process which may ultimately converge upon chess perfection.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wiki Accounts

The Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (OECO) wiki now provides chess players the ability to create their own OECO wiki account. (OECO accounts enable the account holder to edit the wiki).

Only two pieces of information are required in order to create a OECO
wiki account:
1) Username
2) Password
Other fields are optional.

The previous method required prospective members to first email Accounts were then manually created based
upon these email requests.

We hope that the new system streamlines the process of new account
creation and encourages greater numbers of chess players to become
active contributors to the wiki.

Everyone is welcome to bring their own unique contribution to the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Campaign for Chess Opening Diversity

Does the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings not have coverage of the chess opening that you are looking for?

Join today and help us with our new Campaign for Chess Opening Diversity!

Please help us as we launch a new campaign to expand the number of openings which are covered within the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (OECO). Greater opening diversity, we hope, will increase the value of the OECO for the chess community at large.

Currently the OECO only addresses a relatively narrow set of chess openings albeit in considerable detail. In the coming months, we hope to expand that number to include most commonly played openings.

We encourage all current members of the OECO community as well as any chess player who is thinking about joining to consider adding a few wiki pages about an opening which has yet to be given any coverage.

Membership is free. 

The triumph of the analytical movement, which formed in the '30's and '40's, was precisely what earned the Soviet masters the acclaim of chessplayers the world over. Unfortunately, it must also be noted that, for today's chessmasters, the watchword is practicality. - Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik

Sunday, February 13, 2011

History of Humans vs. Computers

Deep Blue, Chinook, Quackle, Polaris, Huygens, and BKG 9.8 are the names of computer programs which have emerged victorious against top human competitors in games of strategy. Each of these programs were also recently referred to in a CNN article about the upcoming match between human Jeopardy champions and the computer Jeopardy program called Watson.

Deep Blue is IBM's computer chess program which famously defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in a 1997 match. This defeat of the reigning world chess champion is not without controversy, however.

Chinook, written by Jonathan Schaeffer and his team at the University of Alberta, defeated long-time world checkers champion, Marion Tinsley. Visit the Chinook project website and play the program which made history. I also recommend Schaeffer's book, One Jump Ahead - Computer Perfection at Checkers, for those interested in the story surrounding the creation of the unbeatable program which always plays perfect checkers.

BKG 9.8 was a Backgammon program which, in 1979, defeated the reigning world backgammon champion, Luigi Villa. BKG 9.8's defeat over Luigi Villa is considered to be the first time that a sitting human world champion of a board game was defeated by a software program. Villa, however, was only recently crowned world backgammon champion when he was defeated by BKG 9.8 and Villa was handicapped with inferior dice rolls. Dr. Hans Berliner, the author of BKG 9.8, is also known for his popularization of the Option Principle which has been a topic of discussion at this blog and within the Open Encyclopedia of Chess Openings wiki.