A Chess Grand Master Teaches Computers To Cut Corners

Computers keep getting better at chess, but they're still not as good as a grand master. That's because chess programs typically rely on the brute-force approach--sifting through millions of moves and countermoves for all possible scenarios. Human experts, by contrast, ignore obviously flawed strategies and concentrate on fewer alternatives.

Now, an 81-year-old chess grand master, Vladimir Botvinyik, is working with Hewlett-Packard Co. to teach computers the tricks he honed while reigning as the Soviet chess champ from 1948 to 1963. With help from other chess players and mathematicians in Moscow, Botvinyik hopes to develop software techniques that mimic the insights of human players.

HP isn't after a computer that can beat Gary Kasparov. Instead, it wants to develop generic methods for pruning the dead-end branches from any so-called search tree. This would become a key element in applying artificial intelligence to a wide range of business situations. "What we are doing reduces an enormous search problem to almost no choices," says Botvinyik. "This is how a master thinks."