Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Ultimate AI Chess Championship

Does everybody remember that great website Grudge-Match? You know, the one that used to have battles between celebrities and fictional characters? The one you could waste lots of time on in college?

Well, in view of the upcoming review of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which got delayed because I went off on a tangent writing a brief history of female robots in sf before realizing that would be too much for a television review and ended up with the equivalent of a half-finished review and a one-eighth finished essay, I was noticing that Chronicles depicts the evil Skynet computer, the one that nukes the world and builds Terminators, beginning as a chess program. I thought that was quite appropriate, since chess programs have tried to take over the world before: after all, I'm old enough to remember when the MCP was just a chess program; he started small and he'll end small!

So I asked myself, "If Skynet and the Master Control Program played chess against each other, who would win?" Then I remembered good ol' Grudge-Match and decided to rip off their method: Two of us will debate the question of whether Skynet or Master Control would win a chess match, and then we'll allow readers to vote and settle the matter once and for all.

Lucky the Goldfish will be arguing for Skynet, seeing as how she's a Terminator fan, partly because she likes Thomas Dekker and partly because, as she once admitted to me after making me swear never to tell anyone, especially strangers on the Internet, "Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the day had a majorly hotty body." I, on the other hand, will argue for the Master Control Program, seeing as how I'm one of the four remaining people who think Tron is a good movie. Let the games begin!

Lucky: I think Skynet would definitely win in a chess match against the Master Control Program. You know why? Because chess takes brains. After Skynet became sentient, it not only wiped out most of the humans and then cleverly built humanoid cyborgs to destroy the survivors, it was smart enough to build a time machine. That's really impressive. Skynet took over the world! The Master Control Program, on the other hand, only managed to take over the network in one company, and then it was defeated by a glowing frisbee. Besides that, Skynet was smart enough to build a cyborg that looks like a hot young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

D.G.D.: Yes, but it wasn't smart enough to give Arnie good hair. The human rebels had to do that, in the sequel. And let's look at just how smart Skynet is: yeah, it's smart enough to build cyborgs, but when it sends one back in time to 1980s Los Angeles, which model does it choose? That's right, the one that looks and sounds like an Austrian bodybuilder. Apparently, that's what Skynet thinks will blend in. And as for the Terminators themselves, they may look human so they can infiltrate, but they're not exactly masters of stealth, seeing as how they simply stomp in, pull out guns, and start shooting. They never bother to get close to the target before opening fire. They can't even aim.

Lucky: Speaking of not being able to aim, the Master Control Program is dumb enough to protect itself with nothing but a spinning gizmo containing a big slot just large enough for a killer frisbee, and not only that, but some guy jumping into its beam-of-light-thingy is enough to distract it so its gizmo stops spinning. If it's such a smart program, can't it focus on the guy and frisbee at the same time?

D.G.D.: Don't ever blame the Master Control Program for missing the obvious when you're trying to defend Skynet. Here's a question: If Skynet can send robots back in time only when they're coated in living flesh, why doesn't it grow some flesh around a crate full of guns and clothes so its cyborgs can get dressed and armed right away instead of staggering around buck wild?

Lucky: Why don't you ask the computer program that thinks it's a good idea to punish its enemies by forcing them to play video games? Or that thinks it's a good idea to create its own nemesis by digitizing a skilled computer programmer?

D.G.D.: Hey, have you ever played Pong for hours on end? That's what I call torture. I'd do that to my enemies if I could. And while I'm at it, I've got another question: if only flesh-coated stuff can travel back in time, how did that liquid all-metal T-1000 make the trip? And why did it show up naked when it can generate clothes out of its own body?

Lucky: Don't try to confuse me by changing the subject!

D.G.D.: And how is it that a Terminator with an M79 grenade launcher can blow stuff up at point-blank range when those grenades have to fly 30 meters before activating?

Lucky: Stop it! That's not Skynet's fault! You just don't like it that Skynet is smart enough to work around those little problems! Your Master Control, on the other hand, can't even guard its Light Cycle arena carefully. And when it's in trouble and Plan A isn't working, its Plan B is to turn its chief minion into a slow-moving, ineffective giant. Yeah, that's real smart!

D.G.D.: Ooh, someone's getting feisty. She must know she's losing. Let's look at how things have played out here: Skynet is ultimately defeated by a waitress, a juvenile delinquent, and a wisecracking bodybuilder, all of whom use the brilliant, subtle, brainy technique of shooting the bad guy repeatedly until he eventually falls over. Quite pathetic to lose to that crowd. The Master Control Program, on the other hand, is ultimately defeated by a dream team that includes the likes of Tron the Electronic Gladiator, a hot digital babe, and the computer program equivalent of the messiah. It's no dishonor to lose to them.

Lucky: Ah, but the Master Control Program is still dead. Skynet, on the other hand, keeps coming back for more.

D.G.D.: Yeah. I've noticed.


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