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