NON-FICTION
Artificial Intelligence: Mindless or Single Minded?
Mike Ekunno

The default turf where I encounter Artificial Intelligence is on the chess board – the virtual board. That is where I meet and play Chess Titans, muted, stoic, and non-living according to scientific taxonomy but conscious, even self-conscious. Which should tilt the single criterion for classifying living and non-living more towards ABBA’s in Move On:

What really makes the difference
between all dead
and living things - 
the will to stay alive.

My non-human opponent has all the will to  stay alive on the board and fights off my challenge with the knights and other officers and men at her service. I chose to set my play level with Chess Titans closer to the Level 10 limit. For that, I have been getting the beating of my life from the inexorable app. My buffer against this disrespect is to unilaterally agree that we play on two modes: Practice and Contest.

Playing on Practice allows me retract my poor moves. Repentance is a virtue. Retraction is a humble pie to ingest but it is better than sacrificing an officer in broad daylight. More humbling because my demure opponent never retracts. How do you feel asking a favor from a friend who never reciprocates the nuisance? Self-respect’s loss with retraction however, is experience’s gain. Going one, two, or three steps backwards has won me many a game. By so doing, I gain perspective on the road not taken. This is a dividend of playing non-human opponent. 

Retraction is against the rules but, even worse, an ego issue with human opponents. It is the only rule I bend while playing against AI and, that, only on Practice mode. The catch is that I decide which mode is at play at any time.  Contest mode can morph to Practice if I see a trashing coming. Hey, I own this laptop and downloaded her apps!

Practice or not, the app records and tabulates the outcome of every game to one of four categories: win, loss, draw or stalemate. Contest games bring out greater presence of mind from me. Not that it makes any difference to my ruthless opponent. I do get to beat her without any amendment to the rules: fair and square. But it is always a long-drawn out game beating Chess Titans. Unlike human opponents who resign when their position becomes untenable, AI sticks it out to the end even if left with a pawn to your queen and two rooks. Which is not a graceful thing to do. But this unscrupulousness manages to scavenge a stalemate for AI ever so often. Seeing my opponent with virtually no odds-on chance of winning, I often get carried away and give away a stalemate. That is when the king has no legitimate move available without being under check.  At such times while I sulk, I can imagine her gloating with a smirk. While I regard such stalemates as de facto wins for me, my points’ tally remains unchanged. It is such lack of grace that makes me wonder at AI’s Emotional Intelligence Quotient: is it mindless or single-minded?

To be sure, Chess Titans is not completely stoic when endangered. I have amused myself often at her panic when I am two or three steps away from a mid-game checkmate. At such times, she throws literarily everything in her arsenal to stave off impending death a la defeat. Such death throes’ scrambles confirm ABBA’s thesis earlier mentioned. It should drive scientific taxonomy for organisms away from the primal two categories of living and non-living. How can a non-living thing panic at the prospect of death? It is much the same logic that informs the classification of fetuses as humans. Neo-natal imaging has been used to show fetuses marked for abortion cringing from invasive forceps. Being an American presidential election year, political correctness constrains me to stop short of these obvious Pro-life reinforcements first from ABBA’s lyrics and, now, AI. 

I digress. Artificial Intel in chess gained worldwide mileage with the Deep Blue-Garry Kasparov matches in 1996 and 1997. While the then reigning world champion beat the IBM Supercomputer, 4-2, in the first game in February, 1996, the rematch with the enhanced computer ended 3.5-2.5 in favor of Deep(er) Blue. In the deciding sixth game which tipped the scales in favor of the computer, Kasparov made a mistake in his opening move. “The Deep Blue chess computer that defeated Kasparov in 1997 would typically search (from) a depth of between six and eight moves to a maximum of twenty or even more moves in some situations.”

Kasparov’s opening blunder is the potential cross borne by every human. Because we have a soul, we are open to the vagaries of the emotion. AI is not. Its mindlessness or single-mindedness is total. But this can also be its Achilles heel. The struggle or collaboration between the intellect/cerebrum and emotion/cerebellum is one that has been known and examined by scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychics for ages. When in perfect harmony, the intellect-emotion tag team produces virtuoso art and sublime technology. The times I’ve beaten my not-so-Deep Blue opponent have been those moments of optimum balance between logic and sleight of hand.

For one, my AI opponent has a blind spot with respect to pawn flank advances. It is also quite vulnerable to the pawn fork. Maybe at the highest level of play, these slight vulnerabilities are wiped out. In the interim, I exploit them for that slight advantage that often makes all the difference between winning and losing. 


Mike Ekunno is in awe of beauty in sound, sight and smell and is engaged in the elusive alchemy to unite them. He is head of media at Nigeria’s film regulatory authority on working days. His writings have found outlets in The First Line, Carbon Culture Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, The Artist Unleashed, Gambling the Aisle, The African Roar Anthology 2013, Warscapes, bioStories, BRICKrhetoric, Dark Matter Journal, Thrice Fiction Magazine, Cigale Literary Magazine, Middle Gray Magazine, Miracle e-zine, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, The Muse, Bullet Pen and Storymoja, the last two coming with wins in continent-wide contests. He enjoys reading Old Testament stories.