Decades ago I worked at the Oxford bookstore on Peachtree Street in the part of Atlanta called Buckhead. Although I did not make much money- no one does working at a bookstore-it was a wonderful job because of the people with whom I associated. Book lovers are special people. The first book on computers to appear was special. It was brought from the back room and passed around. A discussion about the section in which it should be placed ensued. Soon there were so many books on computers the owner, Rupert LeCraw, had carpenters come in to build an upstairs to contain the technology section, along with a coffee shop, making our bookstore the first in the South with one. The books were catalogued by index card until Rupert purchased a computer system. He obtained a low price because part of the deal was to allow the company to use his system to sell other systems to prospective buyers. It was named “Duet” but we came to call it the “Mongrel.” It was down at least as much as it was up, and seemed to go down before it was to be shown, as if it knew people were coming. “That thing has a mind of its own,” manager Mike would say. Rupert had signed an agreement whereby the only people who could repair the Mongrel were from the company from whom he bought the thing. Mike and I began to read the computer books arriving daily on our off time. We both had thoughts of going into the computer field. One of the books I read was, “Computer Power and Human Reason,” by Joseph Weizenbaum, a professor emeritus at MIT. It was an extremely influential book in which a man who had devoted his life to computers basically said the advent of computers would be the demise of freedom and we should take sledgehammers to all computers. Ok, I am paraphrasing somewhat. Actually, he said computers should not be allowed to make decisions because they lacked human qualities such as compassion and wisdom. For that reason I find the move toward allowing drones to make decisions frightening. Every day there are articles concerning a program making decisions that earlier were made by a human. For example, check this out: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2013-10-11/machines-gauging-your-star-potential-automate-hr-hiring.html After reading the book Mike and I would have stimulating arguments. Mike did go into the computer field while I stayed away from computers until this century.
While reading the article by Irina Krush on the USCF website, “Water From a Stone,” (http://www.uschess.org/content/view/12378/729/) something she wrote caused me to stop and reflect on the above. Irina wrote, “This put me in the leaders group, and I was paired with the top seed, Evgeni Alekseev in round three. I played rather naively in the opening, took a dangerous pawn, ran into his computer-assisted knowledge of the line, and was crushed very aesthetically.”
How does she know her opponent’s knowledge was “computer-assisted?” She does not say. Could it be Irina assumes his knowledge was obtained through the use of a computer? It could be her opponent had spent the previous evening acquiring the knowledge used against her in something as antiquated as a, dare I say, book!
Back in the day there was a player, IM Bernard Zukerman, known as “Zuke the Book.” It was always said, and written, in derogatory terms, as if being a “book” player meant one’s understanding came from being “booked-up,” not from having talent. Many players were known for being a “book” player then, but poor Bernard had the misfortune of having a name that could be made to rhyme with the dreaded word, “book.” Nowadays everyone is a ’puted-up player. I recall an interview with GM Vladimir Kramnik in which he posited chess was much more difficult at the top level now because one had to spend so much time using a computer for analysis because the opponent was doing the same, whereas in the past one could rely on things like judgment and intuition. Now every player has to be a “Pete the ‘Pute” to survive.
I read an interview with IM Elizabeth Paehtz on the Kingpin website. (http://www.kingpinchess.net/2013/10/elisabeth-paehtz-20-questions/)
Her answer to the question, “Which single thing would most improve the global chess scene?” is interesting:
“Probably to abandon all engines and chess software and play chess like in former times, when real strength and understanding counted and not who did the most precise home preparation with the help of engines. These engines are even more destructive nowadays as the problem of cheating has increased drastically. In Germany there have been two recent cases involving rather young players and that’s quite sad.”
This is usually the kind of answer given by a player from the previous generation, not someone as young as Elizabeth. For example, in answer to the question posed in New in Chess 2009/3, “If you could change one thing in the chess world, what would it be?” GM Vlastimil Hort answered, “I would strictly expel and forbid all computers. Using them is a surrender of the human brain.”
Unfortunately, now that the genie known as computer is out of the bottle, it can never be put back. Chess programs can be regarded in the same way I view nuclear power. They both come at a cost, and the price is far too high. Another book I read over a quarter of a century ago has a profound influence, “Forevermore: Nuclear Waste in America”, by Donald Bartlett and James Steele. There was no way to dispose of the byproduct of the so-called “cheap” energy produced then, and there is no way to dispose of it now. The fools who brought it online in the 1950’s, without giving We the People a choice in the matter told us that although there was no way of disposing of the waste, they were so brilliant they would eventually figure out a way to get rid of the dangerous stuff. It turns out we have been “Fukushimaed.” “Nobody really knows how to solve the problems at Fukushima.
There is nobody who has solutions. The problems at Fukushima are unprecedented.
…There is no solution that other countries have to come in and fix the
reactors, or rather, shut down the contamination, shut down the leaks.” – Robert Jacobs, Historian, Hiroshima Peace Institute
Fukushima Farmers Protest Growing Food
in “Decontaminated” Soil That’s Still Radioactive.
“We won’t eat it ourselves, but we sell it.”
Earthfiles Gulf Resident’s Email September 9, 2013: “I just watched the video you posted (above) about the Fukushima farmers selling contaminated food. This is exactly what has happened to the Gulf Coast fishermen after the BP oil spill, who are still having to sell contaminated seafood in order to make a living. Seafood coming out of the Gulf is still unhealthy. Shrimp is … hideous with mutations, but no public officials want to admit it for fear of ruining the seafood trade in the Gulf. Most of the crab fishermen have gone out of business because there are NO CRABS to fish. Don’t hear anything about that, do you? It is being suppressed in the news media. … I just wanted to say that the Fukushima farmer in the video could easily be a Southeast Louisiana fisherman – same words, same anger, same grief.”-The above is taken from Linda Moulton Howe’s excellent website: http://www.earthfiles.com/
In a sense one could say chess has been Fukushimaed by the advent of the chess program. Like it or not it is a fact that the nuclear waste created over the last half century plus must be dealt with, and the brilliant minds that foisted the devil upon us still have absolutely no idea how to dispose of the agent of death. The waste at Fukushima will be the demise of We the People. If those holding the reins of power in the chess world do not find a way to deal with the byproduct of what has come to be called “engines,” the game of chess will be destroyed before human beings are destroyed by nuclear waste.