MODERATOR: Steve Mirsky
PARTICIPANTS: Joel Benjamin, Murray Campbell
PROGRAM DATE: Saturday, June 1, 2013

Not long ago, the idea of a computer beating a human at chess was the stuff of science fiction. But some of the most creative programmers of the 1980s and 90s were determined to make it a reality. And they did. In two matches that riveted the world, Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer, took on the brilliant world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and finally the computer won. The program begins with a secret screening of a feature film that will have its New York premiere in June—a darkly comic, fictional take on those early programming efforts, which won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance—and is followed by a fascinating discussion with some of the real-life programmers and chess masters involved in the epic match-up between man and machine.

Warning: The film includes some adult content: nudity and drug use.

This program is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and its Public Understanding of Science and Technology initiatives. Presented in collaboration with the Museum of the Moving Image.

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Writer, Editor

Steve Mirsky has written the humorous Anti Gravity column for Scientific American since 1995 and is a member of the magazine’s board of editors. Since 2006 his primary responsibilities have been overseeing the magazine’s weekly podcast Science Talk and the daily podcast, 60-Second Science. As a freelance writer, Mirsky contributed to numerous publications, including Audubon, Earth, Sea Frontiers, and Astronomy. A collection of his columns was published by The Lyons Press in 2008.

Mirsky has been awarded science journalism fellowships at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he studied molecular evolution, and at Columbia University. He also received a Knight science journalism fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the 2003-2004 academic year.


Chess Grandmaster

Joel Benjamin was hailed as a chess prodigy when he became a national master at the age of 13, breaking Bobby Fischer’s record for youngest-ever master. A three-time U.S. junior champion, he became a grandmaster in 1986. Benjamin won the U.S. Championship three times, in 1987, 1997, and 2000. He also holds a place in the history books for playing in a record 22 consecutive championships. He was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2008.

His most famous gig was in helping the IBM Deep Blue computer team to defeat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. Benjamin was the official grandmaster consultant for the 1997 rematch (Deep Blue lost to Kasparov in 1996). Joel trained the computer to think more positionally and thus augment computers’ traditionally awesome calculation skills. Joel enjoyed the discipline of his first 9-5 job (rare hours for chess pros), and found that after the intense year working with Deep Blue, his skills had improved.

Computer Scientist

Murray Campbell is a research scientist at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. He was a member of the team that developed Deep Blue, the first computer to defeat the human world chess champion in a match. Campbell has conducted research in artificial intelligence and computer chess, with numerous publications and competitive victories, including eight computer chess championships. This culminated in the 1997 victory of the Deep Blue chess computer, for which he was awarded the Fredkin Prize and the Allen Newell Research Excellence Medal. Campbell has a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, is an ACM Distinguished Scientist, and a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.