Then and Now

No other prize in the long history of technology prizes (see cover story, "Astrobotic's Race to the Moon") has as many connections into Carnegie Mellon University as the Fredkin Prize.

Edward Fredkin--currently a visiting career professor of computer science at CMU--threw down the gauntlet in 1980. A pioneer in artificial intelligence and inventor of the Fredkin gate, the trie data structure and other hardware and software innovations, Fredkin promised $100,000 to the designers of the first computer that could beat a world chess champion.

Carnegie Mellon and Carnegie Tech had a long history in computer chess, dating back to Herb Simon, Allen Newell and Cliff Shaw's 1950s development of NSS, the first chess program able to beat a human player. Naturally, CMU was chosen to award the new Fredkin Prize.

The first team to get close was at Bell Laboratories, where in 1981, a chess computer achieved master status. (The designers shared a $5,000 Fredkin award for their work.) Then, in 1988, five CMU grad students--Thomas Anantharaman (CS'86,'90), Michael Browne (CS'86,'89), Murray Campbell (CS'87), Feng-hsiung Hsu (CS'90) and Andreas Nowatzyk (CS'90)--received a $10,000 Fredkin award for designing a machine that reached international master status. They named it "Deep Thought" after the computer that knew the answer to the meaning of "life, the universe and everything" in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Eight years later, at IBM, Campbell, Hsu and colleagues unveiled their ultimate chess-playing computer--Deep Blue, a 30-node parallel-processing machine with but one purpose: playing chess, and playing it fast, evaluating up to 200 million possible positions every second.

At the time, the world's reigning champion was Garry Kasparov, who had defeated Deep Thought in a two-game match in 1989. Now, in February 1996, Kasparov took on Deep Blue in Philadelphia. The computer won the first game, but Kasparov won three and twice fought the machine to a draw to win the overall tournament.

More than a year later, in May 1997, Kasparov and a much-improved Deep Blue faced off again, this time in New York City. Kasparov won the first match. Deep Blue won the second, and the next three games were draws. The sixth was a decisive win for Deep Blue and the IBM team. Kasparov, who claimed to have seen "human intelligence" in Deep Blue's moves, demanded a rematch. IBM declined.

That June, Hsu, Campbell, and IBM researcher A. Joseph Hoane Jr. received the $100,000 Fredkin Prize during the AAAI's annual meeting in Providence, R.I. "There has never been any doubt in my mind that a computer would ultimately beat a reigning world chess champion," Fredkin told reporters. "The question has always been when."
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