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Culture war games: the young, the ignorant and the idle

Young Men Are Playing Video Games Instead of Getting Jobs. That’s OK. (For Now.)
By Peter Suderman

The sheer amount of time that many players put into games is stunning to consider. A relatively modest single-player game like The Last of Us might take 10 to 20 hours to complete. A game like Mass Effect: Andromeda might take 60 hours to play through once, and 100 hours for a careful player to encounter all the content. The branching nature of the gameplay encourages multiple playthroughs. Online multiplayer games can take even more time. In 2015, Activision CEO Eric Hirschberg reported that Destiny, a complex mass-multiplayer shooter that mixes role-paying elements with squad-based action, counted 16 million players, and that daily players put in an average of three hours a day.

One way of describing a game that has such pull on its players might be that it is fun. Another might be that it is addicting.

‘As addictive as gardening’: how dangerous is video gaming?
By Jordan Erica Webber

When Ferguson contacted the World Health Organisation to express concerns about the possible inclusion of gaming disorder in the eleventh revision of the ICD (ICD-11), he was told by one representative via email that the WHO has, “been under enormous pressure, especially from Asian countries, to include this”.

In an “open debate paper” on the subject, a group of 26 researchers from 24 departments across the west, including Ferguson and Markey, expressed their stark concerns:

“A diagnosis may be used to control and restrict children, which has already happened in parts of the world where children are forced into ‘gaming-addiction camps’ with military regimes designed to ‘treat’ them for their gaming problems, without any evidence of the efficacy of such treatment and followed by reports of physical and psychological abuse.”

The government in South Korea, for example, is so concerned about video game addiction that it has introduced laws to limit children’s access to online games, and government-sponsored medical practices offer treatments that can involve electric shocks.

The rise of eSports: are addiction and corruption the price of its success?
By Simon Hattenstone

One machine delivers basic shocks to stimulate the frontal lobe; the other provides transcranial magnetic stimulation, a less brutal therapy. These treatments, particularly the first, are controversial, especially when used on young people. But Lee insists his treatment is much more sophisticated than the crude electroconvulsive therapy of yesteryear. As he talks, he regularly flicks a switch, gives himself an electric shock and twitches. He seems unaware that he is doing it.

How old are the youngest people he treats? “There are kids who are obsessed before they enrol in their elementary school. With gaming, it is the frontal lobe that degenerates. And it is the frontal lobe that makes humans act like humans. So having it damaged makes them antisocial, impulsive and unhappy.” The electric shock stimulates the frontal lobe, he explains.

I ask if the brain zap is random. Yes, he says, but it does not matter. “If one part of the brain is stimulated, the surroundings will get stimulated accordingly, too.”

I ask if he will give me the most powerful shock he gives patients, on my hand. It’s only a single zap, but the impact is violent. My bones resonate as if struck by a tuning fork. I can still feel it hours later. These shocks are meant to be applied to the head.

On the way out, I see a little boy, possibly nine years old, in the waiting room with his mother. The boy has a League of Legends tattoo on his arm. This is a cultural taboo in Korea, where tattooing is illegal, and a clear sign the boy is far gone. I wonder whether he will get the talking therapy, electric shock or both.

Video Games Aren’t Addictive
By Christopher J. Ferguson and Patrick Markey

A large-scale study of internet-based games recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry bears out our skepticism about this “addiction.” Using the American Psychiatric Association’s own metrics for ascertaining psychiatric disorder, the study’s researchers found that at most 1 percent of video game players might exhibit characteristics of an addiction and that the games were significantly less addictive than, say, gambling.

More damning, the study found that almost none of those classified as being possibly addicted to video games experienced negative outcomes from this addiction. That is, the mental, physical and social health of these potential “addicts” was not different from that of individuals who were not addicted to video games. This suggests that the diagnosis of addiction doesn’t make much sense to begin with.

Indeed, the biggest difference between addicts and non-addicts that the study found was that the addicts played more video games. This is a diagnosis that verges on mere tautology.

The risk here, of course, is that by treating the immoderate playing of video games as an addiction, we are pathologizing relatively normal behavior. Consider a common diagnostic question used to help identify addiction, such as “I always use X to relax after a bad day.” Well, if X is methamphetamine, that’s a worrisome choice, one that presumably indicates addiction. But if X is playing video games, how is that different from unwinding after work by knitting, watching sports or playing bridge?

We don’t deny that new technologies come with some perils. We understand the nostalgia for the halcyon days of, say, the 1950s, when people were not yet bound to their personal technology and were free to enjoy the simpler pleasures of life, like stickball and climbing trees — and getting polio and having to wait in line at the bank to check your account balance.

What parents don’t know about comic books
By Fredric Wertham, M.D.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Its protection should be based on the same kind of scientifical clinical thinking as public health. How many cases of ill effects do we need? The threadbare argument that only the predisposed are potentially harmed by comic books is without merit from the point of view of public health. In the first place, it is not true. I have seen many juvenile delinquents who were predisposed to achieving good things in life and were deflected from their course by the social environment of the which comic books are a part. We would not by law permit people to sell bad candy with poisonous ingredients because the manufacturer guarantees that it will not hurt children with strong stomachs, and will sicken only those children who are inclined to have stomach upsets in the first place. In public health we also have little sympathy with the claim that we don’t have to prevent illness because if we rule out one factor people would get sick sooner or later anyhow, if not with this disease then with something else. Yet that is how the comic-book industry reasons.

Whenever you hear a public discussion of comic books, you will hear sooner or later an advocate of the industry say with a triumphant smile. “Comic books are here to stay.” I do not believe it. Parents will realize that comic books are not a necessary evil. I am convinced that in some way or other the democratic process will assert itself and crime-comic books will go, and with them all they stand for and all that sustains them. But before they can tackle Superman, Dr. Payn and all their myriad incarnations, people will have to learn that freedom is not something one can have, but is something that one must do.

The Study of Man: Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham
By Robert S. Warshow

In general, Dr. Wertham pursues his argument with a humorless dedication that tends to put all phenomena and all evidence on the same level. Discussing Superman, he suggests that it wouldn’t take much to change the “S” on that great chest to “S.S.” With a straight face he tells us of a little boy who was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and said, “I want to be a sex maniac!” He objects to advertisements for binoculars in comic books because a city child can have nothing to do with binoculars except to spy on the neighbors. He reports the case of a boy of twelve who had misbehaved with his sister and threatened to break her arm if she told anybody. “This is not the kind of thing that boys used to tell their little sisters,” Dr. Wertham informs us. He quotes a sociologist who “analyzed” ten comic-book heroes of the Superman type and found that all of them “may well be designated as psychopathic deviates.” As an indication that there are some children “who are influenced in the right direction by thoughtful parents,” he tells us of the four-year-old son of one of his associates who was in the hospital with scarlet fever; when the nurses offered him some comic books, the worthy child refused them, “explaining. . . that his father had said they are not good for children.” Dr. Wertham will take at face value anything a child tells him, either as evidence of the harmful effects of the comic books (“I think sex all boils down to anxiety,” one boy told him; where could he have got such an idea except from the comics?) or as direct support for his own views: he quotes approvingly a letter by a thirteen-year-old boy taking solemn exception to the display of nudity in comic books, and a fourteen-year-old boy’s analysis of the economic motives which lead psychiatrists to give their endorsements to comic books. I suspect it would be a dull child indeed who could go to Dr. Wertham’s clinic and not discover very quickly that most of his problematical behavior can be explained in terms of the comic books.

The Novel-Reading Panic in 18th-Century in England: An Outline of an Early Moral Media Panic
By Ana Vogrinčič (PDF, 225KB)

… novels in one form or the other (either in pirate editions, borrowed from a circu-
lating library, serialized or bought in chap-books) financially also came within
easy reach of almost everybody above the lower class, and the circumstances are
ripe for a catastrophe! All you need are naïve, inexperienced, susceptible readers –
“the young, the ignorant and the idle” (Johnson, 1750) – to jump at the bait. Con-
sidering that the novel-reading public was regarded as predominantly female and
that women were already perceived as in all respects weaker, fanciful, more sensi-
tive and thus more liable to bad influence, the situation seemed all the more
alarming.

Novels were accused of creating expectations which life could not fulfil, and of
wearying the sympathies and producing callousness by constantly exposing the
reader to scenes of exciting pathos (Williams, 1970: 13-15). When all the rest
failed, laying blame on them for distracting readers from the more useful work,
and attributing to them the power of a drug, was always at hand. The novel did
not stand a chance – it was necessarily guilty of something.

The way the alleged victims as well as the suspected culprits responded to the
situation could also be read as a proof of consensus on the topic, and the similar
manner in which authors and readers alike actively shunned the term ‘novel’ itself
was no doubt a result of a certain ‘campaign’ against the genre and the stigma that
stuck to novel-readers. The same strategies the latter used in disguising their
reading habits – hiding the novels away, reading them under false covers or ex-
plicitly denying the act at all – all this is a sign of consent, of the recognition of the
anxiety, too.

Chess-Playing Excitement.
By Scientific American

… a pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this? it may be asked. We answer, chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.

Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, because it requires a strong memory and peculiar powers of combination. It is also generally believed that skill in playing it affords evidence of a superior intellect. These opinions, we believe, are exceedingly erroneous. Napoleon the Great, who had a great passion for playing chess, was often beaten by a rough grocer in St. Helena. Neither Shakspeare, Milton, Newton, nor any of the great ones of the earth, acquired proficiency in chess-playing. Those who have become the most renowned players seem to have been endowed with a peculiar intuitive faculty for making the right moves, while at the same time they seem to have possessed very ordinary faculties for other purposes. A game of chess does not add a single new fact to the mind; it does not excite a single beautiful thought; nor does it serve a single purpose for polishing and improving the nobler faculties.

Persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises for recreation—not this sort of mental gladiatorship. Those who are engaged in mental pursuits should avoid a chess-board as they would an adder’s nest, because chess misdirects and exhausts their intellectual energies. Rather let them dance, sing, play ball, perform gymnastics, roam in the woods or by the seashore, than play chess. It is a game which no man who depends on his trade, business or profession can afford to waste time in practicing; it is an amusement—and a very unprofitable one—which the independently wealthy alone can afford time to lose in its pursuit. As there can be no great proficiency in this intricate game without long-continued practice, which demands a great deal of time, no young man who designs to be useful in the world can prosecute it without danger to his best interests. A young gentleman of our acquaintance, who had become a somewhat skillful player, recently pushed the chess-board from him at the end of a game, declaring, “I have wasted too much time upon it already; I cannot afford to do this any longer; this is my last game.’ We recommend his resolution to all those who have been foolishly led away by the present chess-excitement, as skill in this game is neither a useful nor graceful accomplishment.

20 Years after Deep Blue: How AI Has Advanced Since Conquering Chess
By Larry Greenemeier

What is it about chess that makes an especially interesting problem for a computer scientist?
Hundreds of millions of people around the world play chess. It’s known as a game that requires strategy, foresight, logic—all sorts of qualities that make up human intelligence. So it makes sense to use chess as a measuring stick for the development of artificial intelligence.

When we look at a game like chess, we say, “Well, yes, of course computers do well because it’s a well-defined game—the rules, the moves, the goals.” And it’s a constrained problem where you know all the information. Still, in spite of all those simplifications you could say chess is an enormously complex game, and that’s why it took us, as a field, 50 years of development to finally beat the world champion.

Kasparov: ‘Embrace’ the AI revolution
By BBC News

“Deep Blue was as intelligent as an alarm clock,” he said “though losing to a $10m (£7.6m) alarm clock did not make me feel any better.”

The arrival of more authentically intelligent machines did not spell doom for humanity, he said, because history showed that almost every novel technology or innovation was a force of creative destruction.

“The problem is not that machines are replacing human jobs and that they are going after people with college degrees and Twitter accounts,” he said. “Technology, before it creates jobs kills them, it’s always done that.”

Driverless trucks: economic tsunami may swallow one of most common US jobs
By Martin Ford

Since 1990, the total value of goods produced in American factories has increased by 73% (after accounting for inflation).

The jobs story is very different, however. That near doubling in output has been accompanied by a 30% decline in manufacturing employment – a loss of more than 5m jobs.

America is producing more than ever before, but it is doing so with fewer and fewer workers.

While truck driving may eventually become the poster child for the automation wave, the disruption will, of course, be far broader, eventually encompassing the fast food, retail and office jobs that currently employ tens of millions of Americans.

The impact will be especially sharp in those regions where factory jobs once ruled and truck driving now offers the best path to blue-collar prosperity. And as a quick glance at the US electoral map demonstrates, these states punch above their weight politically – both in presidential elections and in the US Senate. An earthquake that is centered here will be felt far and wide.

No one is prepared to stop the robot onslaught. So what will we do when it arrives?
By Steve LeVine

With his portrait of the coming automation of massive classes of jobs, Ford paints a picture eerily similar to Keynes’ and Vonnegut’s. Data are not kept on how many jobs have been lost to robots and automation, but it’s generally thought to be as many as 5 million since the 1990s in the US alone (see chart below). In the future, according to a much-discussed study published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, workers in the West whose jobs are eliminated by industrial robots—about three jobs per robot, the study estimates—may take a long time to find new employment, and they may never do so. The study, by researchers Daron Acemoglu of MIT and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo, describes how, even when jobs are created, they are often not in the same places where they are lost, leaving behind the blighted cities and regions, with their opioid epidemics and other social crises, that feature so significantly in today’s political upheaval.

A study released in March by consulting firm PwC estimated that 38% of American jobs would be lost to robotics and artificial intelligence by the early 2030s; Germany would lose 35%, Japan 21%, and the UK 30%. Newly created jobs will take some of the sting off these numbers, but the forecasts offer more confirmation about the general expectation of what is to come. That is, massive unemployment could be here in just a decade and a half, something worthy of a spot on Mnuchin’s radar screen now.

Artificial Intelligence Is Stuck. Here’s How to Move It Forward.
By Gary Marcus

Artificial Intelligence is colossally hyped these days, but the dirty little secret is that it still has a long, long way to go. Sure, A.I. systems have mastered an array of games, from chess and Go to “Jeopardy” and poker, but the technology continues to struggle in the real world. Robots fall over while opening doors, prototype driverless cars frequently need human intervention, and nobody has yet designed a machine that can read reliably at the level of a sixth grader, let alone a college student. Computers that can educate themselves — a mark of true intelligence — remain a dream.

Even the trendy technique of “deep learning,” which uses artificial neural networks to discern complex statistical correlations in huge amounts of data, often comes up short. Some of the best image-recognition systems, for example, can successfully distinguish dog breeds, yet remain capable of major blunders, like mistaking a simple pattern of yellow and black stripes for a school bus. Such systems can neither comprehend what is going on in complex visual scenes (“Who is chasing whom and why?”) nor follow simple instructions (“Read this story and summarize what it means”).

The Smartest Machines Are Playing Games
By Jeremy Kahn

AI software has cracked Super Mario Bros.; early Atari SA games such as Space Invaders; arcade mainstays Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat; even mobile favorite Angry Birds. Optimists say AI can help solve the world’s toughest problems, including cancer and climate change. So why are AI systems spending so much time gaming?

It’s all about data. Games allow AI software to tackle the kinds of complex logic problems found in the real world—uncertainty, negotiation, bluffing, cooperation—in carefully controlled environments, says Vlad Firoiu, who was part of the team that cracked Melee. Researchers can start their fledgling AI with relatively simple video game problems, run the tests thousands or millions of times, then gradually move on to more complex challenges as the system learns to handle the initial ones.

Young Men Give Up Work for Video Games? Be Skeptical
By Noah Smith

The authors also don’t investigate an important possibility — that unemployment results in men liking video games more, rather than vice versa. Finding themselves with nothing to do after losing their jobs amid the Great Recession, many young men might have developed a video-game habit. This effect could dissipate as the labor market recovers, or it could cause a lasting decrease in young men’s work ethic — a phenomenon known as labor-market hysteresis. A decline in work ethic sounds a lot more worrisome than an improvement in video-game quality.

Finally, Hurst et al.’s result depends on a very simplified model of human behavior. For example, their model doesn’t allow for workers to look into the future and anticipate the negative result that funemployment will have on their long-term careers. Some economists have made models of this, and concluded that reduced working hours could be due to diminished chances of promotion, rather than to increasingly fun leisure time.

So don’t be too quick to relax about reduced working hours. They could be the beginnings of a leisure society, or they could represent a dysfunctional economy. It’s just not clear yet what’s going on.

Watch me play video games! Amazon’s Twitch platform draws users and dollars
By Matt Greco

Twitch has about 14,000 high profile streamers, or elite gamers, who generated $60 million in revenue last year through ads and subscriptions.

On average, pro-streamers can make between $3,000 to $5,000 per month playing 40 hours a week, just from the “sub button.” That number doesn’t include ad revenue, which averages about $250 per 100 subscribers.

While nobody says exactly what they make, it’s rumored that some of the biggest streamers are making over $300,000 per year playing video games. If Piper Jaffray’s estimates are right, streamers like Probly_Ovr_9000 and GuardianOutpost can continue to grow—and the numbers could be huge.

Amazon Is Getting Serious About Video Games
By John Ballard

As it explains on Amazon Jobs, Amazon Game Studios sees “gaming becoming the largest entertainment form on Earth.”

This is apparent when looking at time spent on video games. More Americans spent time on a mobile game in 2016 than on streaming-video services like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Hulu. Players spent about 43 billion hours on Activision Blizzard‘s (NASDAQ:ATVI) games in 2016, which is on par with Netflix users’ more than 45 billion hours of engagement.

It’s becoming apparent that the $970 million purchase of Twitch in 2014 was more than just buying a popular game-streaming site to monetize with advertising. Twitch is an important competitive advantage for AWS, as cloud-storage demand increases with the growth of e-sports and mobile gaming.

Twitch is in the sweet spot of the growing popularity of e-sports, which will reach an estimated global audience of 385 million in 2017, and that figure is growing. By 2020, nearly 500 million people will be involved in e-sports as either participants or spectators, according to market researcher Newzoo. Twitch has more than 100 million users, almost 10 million of them daily active users.

Twitch Will Let More Streamers Earn Money, After Users Spend Over $12 Million on Cheering Emoji
By Todd Spangler

Twitch’s new Affiliate Program, launching later this month, will be open to creators who fit a very low threshold of key metrics like followers and time spent streaming. Initially, those affiliates will have access to Cheering, and eventually Twitch will give them other revenue-generating tools like subscriptions, game e-commerce, and advertising.

The goal: to provide a path for Twitch gamers to be able to turn a hobby into potentially a full-time gig.

Since launching in late June 2016, users have sent more than 1 billion “Bits,” animated emotes in live chats on Twitch channels. That means Twitch users have already spent between $12.3 million and $14 million on Cheering (pricing for Bits ranges from $1.40 for 100 to $308 for 25,000). Twitch pays $1 to Twitch Partner for every 100 Bits used, so $10 million of that revenue has gone to creators.

Streamlabs Live Streaming Report Q2’17 — 53% Growth, $100M+, Twitch & YouTube Crushing It
By Antonio Hicks

Streamlabs MAU (Monthly Active Unique Streamers) rose 53% from the previous quarter to 514,000 for Twitch and YouTube Live. Twitch is growing again.

Twitch and YouTube Live are significantly ahead of Social Live Streaming platforms (Facebook Live, Periscope) in terms of broadcasters and viewers.

Over the last 2 quarters (Jan-Jun) Streamlabs processed ~$50M in tips, which is $7M more than the entire year in 2015. Projected $100m+ in tips for 2017.

Over 97 Million Alerts (real-time notifications) sent in Q2 by viewers showing increasing viewer spend and engagement.

Facebook takes on Twitch with new live-streaming deal for esports
By Sarah Perez

“With over 1.94 billion monthly active users on Facebook, this is a huge step toward expanding the reach of esports among mainstream audiences,” said Johannes Schiefer, Vice President of Social Media and Editorial at ESL, in statement, reiterating this point. “Last year, ESL content generated over 2 billion impressions and reached over 200 million users on Facebook globally. Now, with the addition of live streaming for all major ESL events, as well as exclusive content around CS:GO and ESEA, we are excited to expand our reach to more audiences and build strong local communities of highly engaged esports fans,” he added.

ESEA is ESL’s subscription-based platform for amateur, semi-professional and professional CS:GO players. Its Rank S competition brings together over 300 of the best North American and European ESEA players who compete for a $40,000 prize pool each month across the two regions.

Esports is a rapidly growing business and source of revenue – in 2016, global revenue reached $493 million, and it’s expected to see a 41.3 percent increase this year. By 2020, it’s expected to reach $1.488 billion.

Does the rapid rise of eSports hold the answer to F1’s tumbling viewing figures?
By Leon Poultney

LAST year saw the global TV audience for Formula 1 drop by ten million — the sixth straight year numbers have fallen.

For too long, the sport has been stuck in reverse, young fans turned off by the elitist attitude epitomised by its former head honcho Bernie Ecclestone, who went on the record to say he wasn’t ‘interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is’.

While its numbers are still impressive — it still pulled in 390million last year — the message was clear: F1 wasn’t interested in the next generation of viewers. By contrast, eSports — where people race computer games — is booming.

According to eSports analysts Newzoo, its audience has leapt by 65 per cent in the past two years to 385million, with viewers spending 1.5billion hours watching Activision games — fast catching American football’s seven billion NFL devotees.

Is greed slowing the NFL’s growth?
By Brent Schrotenboer

“We might be right on the edge of a whole series of cultural tipping points,” said Paul Haagen, a sports law professor at Duke University. “If this continues, then I think you’re going to start to see some dramatic rethinking and response. One thing you know is that the NFL is very carefully monitoring it.”

Regular-season viewership among those aged 18-34 has decreased every year since at least 2013, down to 2.9 million this year, according to Nielsen. This is the same generation that has learned a lot about the risks of head injuries in football and has fueled the rise of other sports.

“We need to spend more time with that group of fans and find out how they’re spending their time, where they’re spending their time and what is it that we have to adjust in terms of distribution of this content,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank told USA TODAY Sports.

Millennials now have more options, said Michael Hais, a longtime media audience researcher who has co-authored three books on the millennial generation. “More are involved in activities that some purists don’t even consider sports – things like boarding and video or electronic games,” Hais told USA TODAY Sports via email. “Certainly TV is hedging its bets and airing those events with increasing frequency … In the end, those networks will have to go where their potential audience is.”

Mets, Patriots Owners Said to Pay $20 Million for Esports Teams
By Christopher Palmeri, Eben Novy-Williams and Joshua Brustein

Activision Blizzard Inc., the video-game giant looking to play a bigger role in the emerging esports business, sold franchise rights in seven cities for competition based on its hit Overwatch title.The investors each agreed to pay Activision $20 million over time, people with knowledge of the matter said. They include major team owners such as the New England Patriots’ Bob Kraft, who will control the Boston franchise, and Jeff Wilpon, whose family owns the New York Mets and will run the team in that market, Activision said Wednesday in a statement.

The leader in esports is Los Angeles-based Riot Games, part of China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. Riot said last month it would begin selling local franchises for tournaments based on its League of Legends, an online strategy game. Last year, Riot sold League of Legends media rights for $300 million over seven years to BamTech, a joint venture of Major League Baseball and Walt Disney Co.

Why The Twitch Economy Matters
By Tim Flannery

People have become millionaires playing video games. Game studios are leveraging Twitch to generate billions through direct sales, live events, advertising, and more. Streamers are patching together tools to make money and manage their reputations.

There are highly profitable opportunities for startups to make simple, plug and play software because of Twitch.

As you can tell, I think Twitch is fascinating. I couldn’t believe that watching people play video games was fun, but then I reflected on my own experiences. Playing video games was a social affair. I played with friends, trying to solve puzzles or trash talk on NBA Live. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I was also surprised at its deeply engaged community and the mini-economy that’s sprung up around the simple idea of people watching people play games.

One of the greatest chess players of all time, Garry Kasparov, talks about artificial intelligence and the interplay between machine learning and humans
By Elena Holodny

Kasparov: One of my optimistic prophecies is based on the assumption that machines could have the best algorithms in the universe, but it will never have purpose. And the problem for us to explain purpose to a machine is because we don’t know what our purpose is. We have the purpose, but we still … When we look at this global picture, a universal picture, to understand what is our purpose being here on this planet? We don’t know. So that means we’re still searching, and will not be able to pass this message to the machine. And it’s a problem for us, some kind of comfort, though. People say it’s more like preaching … OK, maybe preaching, yes.

Holodny: Is chess beautiful to you?

Kasparov: Oh absolutely. It’s endlessly beautiful. I haven’t stopped enjoying great games, and when I see a nice endgame, for instance, especially when there are very few pieces left. Oh, I can’t help think, “Wow, how beautiful it is.”

And now, because of computers, we have a new technique of composing studies, endgame studies. They look at the positions from the large databases, and all pieces’ positions are already calculated by the machine. More than 100 terabytes of information. And then they create studies that lead to these positions. Sometimes it’s really beautiful.

So there are so many great things that you can discover. As I said, the number of legal moves is infinite, but if you find this, the little jewels in the tons of garbage.

Holodny: It’s interesting that this is maybe the one thing machines actually can’t do.

Kasparov: But again, you need humans to actually look for the jewels.

Holodny: Exactly.

Kasparov: To understand how beautiful it is. The geometry — it’s just amazing. You know, if I’m in a bad mood, I always look at the chessboard, just to find something that can cheer me up.

Holodny: So I guess it gives you purpose?

Kasparov: [Laughs] Yes.

The Chess Master and the Computer
By Garry Kasparov

Perhaps chess is the wrong game for the times. Poker is now everywhere, as amateurs dream of winning millions and being on television for playing a card game whose complexities can be detailed on a single piece of paper. But while chess is a 100 percent information game—both players are aware of all the data all the time—and therefore directly susceptible to computing power, poker has hidden cards and variable stakes, creating critical roles for chance, bluffing, and risk management.

These might seem to be aspects of poker based entirely on human psychology and therefore invulnerable to computer incursion. A machine can trivially calculate the odds of every hand, but what to make of an opponent with poor odds making a large bet? And yet the computers are advancing here as well. Jonathan Schaeffer, the inventor of the checkers-solving program, has moved on to poker and his digital players are performing better and better against strong humans—with obvious implications for online gambling sites.

Perhaps the current trend of many chess professionals taking up the more lucrative pastime of poker is not a wholly negative one. It may not be too late for humans to relearn how to take risks in order to innovate and thereby maintain the advanced lifestyles we enjoy. And if it takes a poker-playing supercomputer to remind us that we can’t enjoy the rewards without taking the risks, so be it.

Posted in Games.


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