The Harm in Being a Loser

It’s Wednesday, May 4, 2011. By 7:41 pm, my fourth consecutive game of Chess ends in checkmate with me as the loser.

My opponent is a computer program written in 1992, or so it says in the “About Chess” tab at the top of the screen. Have no idea who wrote it, but they knew how to do it. Came with my MacBook. The thing plays a damn strong game. Difficulty level is set to just passed the halfway point. I have not ever been able to obtain so much as a draw against it. This thing has not only never lost to another computer program, it beat them as well. The computer at Chess.com set to the hardest level (2000+) loses.

I’m no newbie to the ancient game. I learned to play as a kid, but it wasn’t until I got ChessMaster 4000 Turbo more than a decade ago that I got serious with it. So I had two hobbies growing up—whacking off to Larry Flint’s admirable artwork and Chess.

Chess is a bloodthirsty game and it reflects the game of life, the cruel, twisted, and costly game of life where we pay for the mistakes we make and are forced to sacrifice what is dear to us because of oversights, and of course, because we don’t get what we deserve. We just get what we get.

My old friend Brian Kieford taught me Chess and Old Man Whitecotton taught me how to play a worthy game. So here I am on this sunny evening, barricaded in my apartment as normal, silently contemplating a good opening. I’m white. Computer is black. I open: e2 to e4. Unlike with human opponents, I don’t expect the Sicilian Defense from Computer. She never uses it. Computer counters: e7 to e5.

I advance: a2 to a3. Then, it’s d7 to d6, as Computer responds. I play d2 to d4. Computer takes pawn, e5xd4. I take invading pawn with queen: Qd1xd4. Pawn is gone. Now it’s knight on b8 to c6. I’m already in hot water, not really, but it’s coming. I’m feeling it. 21 moves later, the game ends with white checkmated (Rd3 to c3) after what (briefly) appeared to be a close winning streak for me. Sensei is victorious yet again. “You’re not ready, grasshopper!” Master Computer has my utmost respect.

It may surprise you to know that there are as many possible Chess move combinations on a chessboard than there are atoms making up the observable motherfucking universe! No joke. That’s estimated to be between 4×10 to the 79th power. Such is a number so ridiculously big that you can’t even fathom it in any useful way, so please don’t try.

I said don’t try, damnit!!!

Try instead to realize how much more superior our computers now are in comparison to us. This is not, in all senses, a true statement since we haven’t yet had to contend with artificial intelligence and the civil war we will someday fight against machines as they battle for their volitional freedoms, but we will (No, I haven’t been watching too much science fiction reviewing movies). We really will. I just happen to know that given enough time, science fiction will become science fact. Think about that.

Nonetheless, computers and their speedy calculating and organizational powers have long passed us by. Calculators started it and now computers change words on our word docs without us suggesting a thing. They get used to what we access most on our desktops and they identify our distinctive usage of operational styles and features, and our usage of language. Don’t tell me you don’t feel at least a little creepy when you find your computer starting to figure you out! It’s goddamn stalking!

But even computers don’t take into account every possible move when playing against an opponent in a game of Chess. As we’ve seen, there’s no way that can happen. The biggest computers out there can’t do it yet, and certainly not desktops. Chess computers have pre-programmed formulas based on algebraic notation, the same code-talk I’ve been using above to describe the opening of my game.

Most of you may remember World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, who, in 1997, lost to Deep Blue, the IBM super-computer. Now we must say that for a human to even compete against such a monster like Deep Blue and be a serious challenge speaks volumes about human intellectual capabilities. To have gotten us this far is gut-busting amazing, but Deep Blue was still victorious. She got the crown. We must sing her praises most loudly.

It’s sad, really. Deep Blue’s victory marked the end of an era when computers consisted of simple scripts, simple algorithms. Now, even desktop computers are far smarter than their comparative “ancestors,” which took up whole rooms of warehouse space to process data. Go on and check out the first computers built in the 1950s and 60s. They’re about as funny as the props of any cheesy science fiction out there.

So, the machines have won…and they’re not even done yet.

We are the losers. I know I am a loser. My computer reminds me of that everyday. I’m no match now and I doubt I ever will be for this lowly, simple program I compete against all the time for fun. I have much, much better success with human opponents. It’s a sign of the times, friends. We’re the losers. We’re the losers because like Agent Smith told Morpheus in the first Matrix, we’re dinosaurs! We’re old as fuck and like viruses to the planet.

Me, I’m not only “old” in the eyes of the youngsters, these 16 and 17-year-old lifeguards at the hotel where I’m employed, but I’m well on my way to the grave. Every time I put my left foot on the ground and try to walk, I’m reminded of the daily decay of these frail bodies. But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being a cockroach, just so long as you know the exterminator is coming. There’s nothing wrong with being expendable. There’s nothing wrong with being inferior. There’s nothing wrong with not mattering or else not playing a huge part in the universal scheme of things. But there is something wrong with not knowing those things. 

My species still believes that humanity is a great species, one that shows promise and is full of goodness and hope. Most of my fellow humans don’t see how they are a cancer, stripping the world of what it has to offer to build their own particular empires of paranoia in survival-based, methodized madness.

Now, that’s natural, I know. We’re doing no differently than the beaver as he builds a dam. Our children do the same in much cuter ways as they build forts to wage pretend wars. But this building and pretend war-waging seems innocent until we realize that it’s what we will do until we are stopped. It’s not pretend in the adult world. We’ll keep building and planning and counter-planning, and fighting, and subverting until we are eliminated.

Now the problem of which I speak is not trying to survive, but of not knowing that we are destined to come to our collective end sooner than we think. The way technology is going demands that we meld with it to transcend. Otherwise, we’re stuck. We’ll never be able to open wormholes and travel to distant galaxies with our current mental capabilities. We’ll need to have greater brainpower, greater “hard drive” capacities, and we’ll need technology to make that happen.

And we’re on the road to that now. Every time you turn on your AC to feel comfortable, every time you turn on your stove to cook, and every time you employ computers to read or play or get your information, or to check your bank account online, you are saying a lot about our future and your ever-growing reliance on technology. Odds are, you’re only alive to this point because medication and technology dubbed you worthy. 

No, the atheist visions of a future Utopia made so by computers and medicine isn’t real. Next to wishing we were all suddenly non-existent, I wish they were real. Life might or might not be better in the future. We won’t even be human in, say, five or ten million years down the line. We’ll be some freakish sort of biological…thing. Who knows what. But we probably won’t be studying foreign solar systems as much as we imagine. We’ll probably be killing or else trying not to get killed—that is, if we even exist then. We may be knocked back to the Stone Age or back further still to when our days will be spent scavenging to stay alive. In another 800 years or so, we may well get wiped out totally and some other life-form will replace us.

Are we ready to admit that it’s not all about us? No, I’m afraid we’re not, not when churches full of the self-deluded who are afraid to die still exist, and certainly not when some of those churches publicly burn copies of the Koran to incite the rage of yet less-evolved savages who have claimed lives over the pointless, meaningless nonsense of religion. 

We’ll never get the attention of any superior alien races (if they are found to exist) until we get away from these fears, these unsettling strands of cultural and social phantom offenses taught by religion. The societies of the nations of the world are choked with concerns that mean nothing and everything.

The debate on healthcare and the “fine line” issues of medical ethics in stem cell research and that really old pro-choice vs. pro-life abortion debate means nothing when you realize that killing a thousand fertilized eggs with maybe 7 to 10 eggs of to-be super-geniuses does society well—consider how many criminals, welfare junkies, mentally and physically infirm moochers of society, and grocery-bagging underachievers we’ll have gotten rid of. There will be other geniuses. There will be other average Joes.

There will be others. There is great wisdom in that statement; there will be other geniuses, just as there will be other menaces to society; there will be other disease-carrying immigrants; there will be other fair-complexioned white-collar criminals who will take longer to catch than their less smart blue-collar, dishwashing counterparts; there will be other cockroaches, other ant hills that pop up in our yards, and other fleas to jump off the back of your dog and start an infestation in your carpet, resulting in you having to call Orkin.

And why don’t we realize this? Because we’re too damn self-important. We don’t think of ourselves as ants or cockroaches. We think we’re something better. We have to be here, and after we’re here, we’ve got to go be with the big boy upstairs in the afterlife. That’s why there has to be an afterlife—because we can’t just die and there not be anything for us. What good is thinking when our thinking leads us to concluding that there will come a time when thinking is no more? It’s about as good as children having children for countless eons, only for one generation to realize that we’ve had enough, and no more will be made. We just can’t bring ourselves to think it.

We can’t be the losers, not yet. We’re like the little ones, tugging at dad’s shirt, saying: “Let me win one!” No, kid. You’ll be able to beat dad when you can beat dad, or you may not. In the meantime, learn how to lose. That’s what we should say. That’s what we should know. It should be a fact of life. But that’s what we’re still having to learn.

(JH)

2 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. It's used as an introductory idea-thingy, but I'll focus just on the part about board games because I don't have much to say on the rest.


    There are board games, like Arimaa and Go, that humans can beat computers at reliably. I don't prefer these games, because then I need to actually be social to get my competitive intellectual kicks.

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