Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Chess Computers and Classical Music Recordings:

I've noticed an interesting parallel between chess computer programs and early 20th century recordings of classical music. Both were expected to make their respective field lifeless and less interesting, but both drove a flowering of skill and involvement instead.
Recorded music was despised at first by many artists for trapping a single performance and replacing the direct interaction of performer and audience. But recordings brought music, played at its best, to much greater audiences than ever before. And part of that audience was the performers themselves, who heard all their mistakes and practiced hard to greatly raise the standards of skill in musical performance. (In the old days, the usual way to rise to the highest level of performance was to travel to where the best players were, and learn from them.)

When a chess computer bested the world champion, it was feared that humans would lose interest in chess. Computers were expected to play lifeless, unartistic chess, but recently they have been producing some really fine games. Chess computers have brought highly-skilled chess play to a much larger audience. Tutorial programs and chess-playing computers make it much easier for anyone with inherent ability to rise to Master level and beyond; but in the old days, the only way to get really good at chess was to travel and play in international tournaments, were the great opponents were.

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