Normally, I try to let readers know a little bit about what’s happening with the Internet in Nashville. I troll around for new Web sites or for services offered by local providers, then I write about them. But this week? Forget it. I’ve spent the past two weeks in giddy awe of a computer named after a color, and I don’t feel the slightest bit ashamed.
By now, you’ve heard all you’ll ever want to hear about Deep Blue, the computer that IBM designed to playand win atchess. You already know that it beat a chess grandmaster, Gary Kasparov. You’ve heard about how it uses dozens of processors that work together to look “seven or eight moves ahead.” You’ve laughed at the commercials during the NBA playoffs that featured a blocky Deep Blue being thoroughly knocked around on the court by a much more agile human basketball star.
You’ve probably already heard the argumentor perhaps participated in one yourselfthat we humans have essentially painted ourselves into a corner with our own technology. In essence, humans designed the game of chess, humans worked for generations to perfect the gameplay, and then they promptly designed a machine that can play it better than any human. If a computer can beat us at games of strategy, the argument goes, then what does that say about the human mind? Does it lessen our inherent intelligence?
The one thing you probably don’t know about Deep Blue, though, would certainly calm your restless imagination. The name “Deep Blue” seems to suggest a deeply contemplative, intelligent machine: a Metropolis-style, autonomous robot with a brain more complex than our own....Wrong.
Deep Blue, for all the bluster created by IBM’s excellent marketing staff, is nothing more than a computerone that any person can buy to perform any job it is programmed to do. It is, in IBM’s own terms, a “stock” RS/6000, which is commonly used by large corporations for research and design work. Actually, Deep Blue is more accurately a program installed on a computer. And that computer had no monstrous intelligence when the power switch was first flippedthe intelligence had to be loaded in from disk.
What’s more, Deep Blue the program actually has no intelligence whatsoever. Its knowledge comes from the ingenuity of the human mind and the wonder of total recall. It is able to take chess games played by two human players and figure out exactly how the game was won or lost. It will then begin to mimic the strategies it judges the most successful. But where the human mind forgets which arcane strategies tend to work, Deep Blue merely recalls them from its permanent storage and then continues with the game.
Indeed, prior to the tournament, the version of the program that challenged Kasparov had never actually played a game of chess. It just watched other games being played, many of them with Kasparov as a player. The program found one weakness in Kasparov’s gameplay and exploited it shamelessly. The weakness? It played like Kasparov himself might play, and then when Kasparov caught on, it didn’t.
Game, set, match, mimic.
In the days since Kasparov fell to the computer, I’ve played chess a couple of times with a good friend. Knowing that a computer program could kick both our asses with one chip tied behind its motherboard didn’t take away from our enjoyment of the game. Right down to the moment my friend captured my king in a neat little box formationhe gloated the rest of the afternoonI had fun playing chess.
I’ll bet you Deep Blue never relished a victory over a world champion. Does that sound like intelligence to you?
♦ My look at Gaylord’s “country.com” Web site a couple of weeks ago drew a spirited response from a member of the ’net community. “C’mon Joel, be fair!” writes Stacy Harris. “[Gaylord’s site] is visually everything it should be, considering it is a promotional vehicle and that it has big bucks going into it.”
Harris adds that her site, Stacy’s Music Row Report http://www.geocities.com/nashville/2839/, doesn’t have big bucks behind it, but it still offers a lot to the Web-going public. Assembled by a truly dedicated music-industry follower, it’s an insider’s look at the country-music biz. It’s nice to see a member of the Internet community spending so much time and energy providing a service that really doesn’t generate any money.
♦ News junkies will want to check out the great job EdgeNet Media did designing sites for the Nashville Banner http://www.nashvillebanner.com/ and the Knoxville News Sentinel http://www.knoxnews.com/. The Banner, which debuted an e-mail news digest last year, allows users of the site to search a database of articles that have appeared in the digest. But the rest of the site, sadly, is rather sparse.
The Knoxville News Sentinel’s effort, however, is sterling. Visually, the site is extremely strong, with a clean design and compact graphics. Navigation tools scattered throughout the site are very helpful. Stories are supplemented with full-color photographs, which adds much to the content’s value.
The difference between the two sites is particularly striking in a side-by-side comparison. Why does a Knoxville paper have a site that looks like it should be in a much larger city? And why doesn’t Nashville, which is home to two dailies, have more of a daily news presence on the Web? Maybe Music City will get up to speed...someday.
Joel Moses can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.