20 years ago, on 10 February 1996, the former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov lost the first match of a six-match series against the computer Deep Blue in Philadelphia, USA.
The result was a sensation, despite Kasparov ultimately winning three matches, drawing two others and only losing this one match. It was the first time that a chess computer had beaten a world champion under tournament conditions. In an effort to save the “honour of the human race”, as he put it, Kasparov faced off against Deep Blue once again one year later. In May 1997, millions of people around the world followed the matches live on TV as all honour was lost and Deep Blue swept the six-match series.
Deep Blue was developed by IBM in cooperation with the creator of the project Feng-Hsiung Hsu and represented something of a milestone in computer history.
The excellent in-game performance of the computer stemmed from its enormous computing power. It was capable of calculating up to 200 million moves per second. Kasparov had little chance of keeping up.
Today, Blue Gene, a descendant of Deep Blue, can analyse an incredible 280 trillion calculation steps per second. Indeed, even simple software programs, available from retailers for less than €50, play better than any chess grandmaster today, without the human race’s honour being called into question – though this is undoubtedly a slightly melancholic thought for some.