Unification News for May 1997

Science and Religion - Man vs. Machine

It started off being irritating. It quickly got irritating and insulting.

It started with the lady of gracious voice reading the morning news on the classical radio station-I like to be gently eased back to reality by my clock alarm first thing in the morning.

She was, for her, exhilarated as she announced: the machine had lost; the human had won. World Champion Garry Kasparov had beaten Deep Blue in the first match of their tournament.

The announcer's tone radiated pride that the human had beaten off the silicon challenge; the computer had not yet trampled all human dignity. Man could still hold up his head before Machine.

I groused my exasperation with her perspective to her unheeding ears as I dressed.

But worse was to come.

For breakfast with The New York Times was a dalliance with indigestion-for now, not only was there the irritating perspective of the radio, there was an added note of insult. This is what had me reaching for the antacid:

"Garry will survive this one," said Frederick Friedel, who is Mr. Kasparov's adviser on computers. Still, Mr. Friedel believes a champion's defeat by a machine is inevitable and, at least metaphorically, cataclysmic. The computer's eventual triumph in chess, he said, will be among just the first intellectual functions in which man's superiority is usurped. "It's going to happen, by the year 2005 or 2010, and we've got to come to grips with it," Mr. Friedel said. "We humans are pathetic, aren't we? We're best at nothing on the planet, except intelligence, and now, even that . . ." (NYT May 4, 1997)

I was fuming at this point: why was the press "spinning" the facts to make the human race look bad, pathetic even.

For to say that this is a Man vs. Machine competition is nonsense. It makes for great headlines-I couldn't resist it myself-but it is nonsense.

It would make as much sense to focus on Garry's fingers and proclaim: Thumb-and-Forefinger Duo Beat Computer.

Man vs. Machine is nonsense because both sides of the chess match were being driven by human intelligence: Garry's mind ran his side of the competition: the minds of Deep Blue's designers ran the other.

Kasparov was not challenging a machine: he was confronting a concatenation of human ingenuity and invention that includes electricity, silicon chips, operating systems and clever programs.

As the IBM web site proudly proclaims, "The latest iteration of the Deep Blue computer is a 32-node IBM RS/6000 SP high-performance computer, which utilizes the new Power Two Super Chip processors (P2SC). Each node of the SP employs a single microchannel card containing 8 dedicated VLSI chess processors, for a total of 256 processors working in tandem. Deep Blue's programming code is written in C and runs under the AIX operating system. The net result is a scalable, highly parallel system capable of calculating 100-200 billions moves within three minutes.... "

I see nothing to call pathetic here-super-sophisticated or highly-evolved seem to be better terms-for all this is the product of human ingenuity. Computers did not originate electricity, solid-state electronics, operating systems, the C programming language, etc. It was human beings; supposedly pathetic human beings, no less.

This chess competition is not Man vs. Machine, rather it is actually Man using traditional methods of playing chess vs. Man using brute-force calculational methods of playing chess.

So why the media hoopla focusing on great machines and threatened human beings?

Well I suppose it is very difficult for media people to think of humans in "child-of-God" terms when they are dealing with "Dad Strangles Daughter" and "Wife Chops Up Husband" all day. After a while it must get them down; they are probably hoping that something better will come along to replace us poor, defective humans.

Could the improved being be the computer? They are certainly fast; while Garry contemplates his three moves in one second the computer has examined 199,999,997 more of them.

But speed is not that important. We would think no more, no less of the Mona Lisa as an expression of artistic talent if it had taken twenty years to paint it rather than a few weeks. Do we think any less of God's creative genius because He took almost twenty-billion years to create the universe rather than just seven days?

No, just because computers are faster at certain things than humans holds out no hope that they will be better than us. This, as we know, will only be accomplished by religion and it's mission to re-creation Man.

Meanwhile, I have a suggestion: God certainly went to a lot of trouble-and it is not over yet-to create something that was His equal-in capacity if not in magnitude.

We have inherited this impulse, not just in the desire to create children (for which we can take only some of the credit) but in the impulse to create machines that can do what we can do (for which we can, collectively, take almost all of the credit).

I definitely would have not have been so irritated if the chess match had been proclaimed as Man vs. Mechanical Child of Man. This would have been much more satisfying.

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