The Digital Prince and The Last Chess Player

IBM Goes Nintendo

Finally, the great beast lurches into the new millennium by succumbing to the Nintendo generation. IBM mutates: it becomes a war machine. It finally finds where it's at - just ask any Doom or WarCraft player. Enter the digital warrior corporation whose every move is gene sequenced to the visceral reflex of the "captured" body - machine/flesh in a symbiotic loop of kill and mate.

Or, even better, just ask Clausewitz whose strategic "forcing" of the enemy energized nineteenth-century millennial war philosophy - a chess warrior in his own right. Or, better still, ask Kasparov, whose own simulator predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ousting of Gorbachev, and whose latest gambit in Russian politics favors Lebed and the return of the warrior class. Now, Deep Blue enters the war room as the most advanced of the simulacra, a war simulator that takes no prisoners, having long since jettisoned the baggage of the prisoner's dilemma. Sacrificial flesh for the millennium as Deep Blue enters into vector field of accelerated strategic initiatives.

The Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative

Welcome to the new war zone, the world of tera-scale computing. Deep Blue, or RS/6000 SP if you wish to order one, with its Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory $93 million upgrade courtesy of the public, is reaching for a trillion calculations a second. A massively parallel architecture with a gargantuan memory file that absorbs itself and its opponents into war time. A type of complete psycho horror where nothing is forgotten - a real Freudian dream set.

As Kasparov said; "Yeah, I was playing against myself and against something I couldn't recognize." This site of mis-recognition was the clonal site as Kasparov's virtual self, the resequenced RS/6000 SP Kasparov that is the sum of its memory file and more, more Kasparov than Kasparov, sat across from the "dumbed down" Kasparov as real virtual life. The schizoid self - half chip/half neuron - poised mirroring itself ready for self-destruction.

But it is even more than this. The RS/6000 SP's 512 processors resequence the real into the virtual vector and then again into digitized vectors of the war zone. This is definitely not the logic of LaPlace, however much he would be pleased to see his "demon" in such fine form. Indeed, the dream of total determined outcomes, the dream of all surveillance, knowing the position of all pieces into thirty, fifty or n plies reduces Deep Blue to the level of idiot savant mindlessly repeating itself until the climatic end - a reassuring end for the media world of humans against machines.

But this does not survive game two, at which point Kasparov, perhaps sensing that he is playing doom chess (his own) cries out for God, or at least for the chess algorithm of the deus ex machina. In vain, as the RS/6000 SP goes into digital delirium leaving the crash test dummy in its virtual trail. For the linear state is exploded into the hyper-world of non-linear vector spaces. The battle no longer depends on straight lines and predictable outcomes. The RS/6000 SP operates in a virtual modality where randomized gaming takes place in a complex field of singularities and imaginary solutions.

Trapped in a linear mind set and expecting the same outcome, Kasparov calls for the re-running of game two. C.J. Tan, the head of the non-chess playing IBM team, quietly points out that "it would be almost impossible to expect the computer to play the same game again." Welcome, then, to the field theory of non-linear feedback that breaks the symmetry of the old stimulus response model for unpredictable, virtual bifurcation. Man and machine have switched modes with Kasparov reduced to the idiot savant against the deep vision of digital field theory. Thus the world of simulacra, of the faithful copy of the original, is eclipsed in the instant that Kasparov is exceeded by his digitized self. Kasparov, realizing this, intuitively abandons himself, retrograding into Anatoly Karpov the eclipsed world champion by playing the Caro-Kann position.

The simulator is blasted apart as the representational bounded field of the real becomes resequenced into new fields directed against the model that gave it birth. Thus, the war plan advances in full awareness of its own critique, deploying its digitized forces in creating the vectors that are energized by the self-feeding frenzy. No longer caught within the representational logic of the same, digitized complexity can fashion resequenced fields that play out scenarios in interactive mode, that is, the battle plan is itself an actor in the battle. Hence the imperative importance of the IBM entry into advanced war theory. No longer Clausewitz's distinction of "Absolute and Real war" but the complex of "Virtual/Digital War." All brought together in the Department of Energy's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative.

Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program

However, the RS/6000 SP has far more important assignments than the virtualizing of the world chess champion. Deep in its logic is the field that controls the catastrophe theory for the "free world". For the RS/6000 SP already has a day job as head of the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program designed, in the words of IBM, "to safely and reliably maintain the nation's remaining store of nuclear weapons." A simulator that plays out nuclear catastrophe scenarios as the weapons stock ages. Or if you prefer to hedge your bets then go visit Lloyd's of London whose insurance risks are calculated by the RS/6000 SP simulating even catastrophes on a global basis. Or if you prefer a world of quick online drugs then there is no longer any need for long trials and tribulations because the RS/6000 SP can simulate this - along with the weather, your new car design and cleaned up toxic waste sites for the debris left over.

Club Kasparov

But what of Kasparov? After all there is no need in the end to worry, for like Club Med, there is a place to go. It is Club Kasparov. Of course, for Kasparov, as a director of an executive air service, getting there is half the fun. But for the rest of us, let's not confuse the possible with the virtual, for Club Kasparov is a web site. Brought to us by IBM as a quick visit to the site shows. Ironically, Kasparov lost the match much earlier in a rather Faustian bargain with Deep Blue, though I am sure he has first-line access to the RS/6000 SP to see the effects of aging should reality ever set in.

The Digital Prince and the Last Chess Player

But perhaps this has nothing to do with chess, but is a game to the death between two forms of intelligence - the bounded field of postmodern intelligence and the unbounded vectors and virtualities of digital intelligence. A game of symbolic exchange in which Kasparov as the last chess player needs not only to be defeated, but humiliated by his own imaginary catastrophe. And he was.

In this scenario, IBM remakes itself under the sign of Machiavelli's The Prince, with Kasparov playing the unhappy role of Remirro de Orco, the Duke's faithful servant and ally, whose body, cut in half, is thrown onto the public square one day together with his broken staff of power as a fatal sign of the Duke's power over the alchemy of life and death. The real victory of Deep Blue is not tactical, but sacrifical. For his "crime" of challenging the artificial power of the Duke of IBM, Kasparov is killed symbolically, broken psychologically, hunted down tactically, haunted artificially, and cloned digitally: the first of all the "resigned" intelligences whose chess body is thrown onto the public square of the Web with its broken staff of power - the so-called grandmaster who can always only be defeated in advance by the humiliated knowledge of his own (algorithmic) inferiority.

Two wills: human and digital, with the real outcome of the "match" the resignation of the human and the triumph of the digital.

The fate of Kasparov, then, as the digital Prince's bitter lesson to the human species - the defeat of human intelligence and the triumph of digital intelligence - and all this promoted with that peculiar form of cynical piety that IBM musters so brilliantly as media gloss for the spectacle. As one IBM programmer boasted, Deep Blue is an experiment in "drug testing." In a chess algorithm that is a perfect mirror of cyber-Russia, Kasparov's metabolic (chess) body is boarded, pirated, and deployed as a superb drug test experiment of the tactical intelligence of Deep Blue: of its raw and massive combinatorial power, of its ability to board the flesh mind of its opponent with such imaginary precision that its every move can be predicted, and thus discounted, in advance by sweeps of probability theorems, of its non-linear liquid mathematics of existence. At IBM's victory party over the human species, one company exec revealed the hidden secret of the game: "The Information Age has finally begun."

In the days following Deep Blue's assault, IBM stocks soared to record heights. Perhaps an accurate reflection of the artificial truism that in all games of life and death, success in economic exchange follows mastery in symbolic exchange.

Kasparov as a big promotional vehicle for IBM, spit out at the end.


David Cook is professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, and author of The Postmodern Scene, with Arthur Kroker. Arthur Kroker is co-editor of CTHEORY and author of, among others, Spasm, and The Possessed Individual.