The history of computing can be told as the history of chess playing programs. The crystal logic of the game of chess made it a perfect test-bed for experiments in machine intelligence. Yet, as everyone seems to know, no computer program built yet can beat a human chess grand master.
What everyone doesn't know is that a computer chess playing program that can already beat about 97 percent of ordinary mortal players is available today as a portable electronic gizmo down at your local Radio Shack store. You'd have to be awfully good to whip this tray-size wonder.
The device is user-friendly, even though it can beat your pants off. You set up the chess pieces on an electronically sensitized board. When you thump your piece down after each brilliant move, the computer gizmo registers it and then calculates its more brilliant counter-move - within seconds. The computer displays its move on a small LCD screen; you have to physically move its piece on the board to match the screen. Viewing physical pieces on the board is comforting for amateur players like myself.
You can also adjust the 'depth' of the computer's search for a solution. Select its smartest setting and the computer may take up to five minutes to make a killer move. Select its dumbest setting and the computer responds with a good move the instant you finish yours. This can be disheartening. I couldn't beat it even then.
The device lets you choose which side the computer plays on, a handy trick if you're being trounced. When I'm hopelessly backed into a corner, ready to surrender, I have it play my side: 'If you're so smart, let's see you get out of this one!' And it does.
Well-worn advice says that the best way to improve your skills in any competitive activity is to play against someone better than yourself. Check out this well-designed game for a worthy opponent. It changed my mind about the feasibility of artificial intelligence, and how humbling it can all be.
Fallout new vegas gun runners. Chess Champion 2150L, $159.95, Radio Shack: +1-817-878-4852.
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