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Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine


Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine

Director: Vikram Jayanti
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Vikram Jayanti's documentary Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine attempts to be three movies at once, but only really excels at one. Drawing on the grumblings of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and his cronies, Game Over suggests that Kasparov's 1997 match against IBM's chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue may have been a setup. Jayanti returns throughout the film to images of The Turk, an antique chess-playing machine and historical fraud that Game Over never explains, though its echoes are vital to understanding the movie's point. A human being secretly operated The Turk, and Kasparov believes that IBM had a team of humans—other chess grandmasters, primarily—telling Deep Blue what to do move by move. Jayanti plays up the conspiracy-thriller angle with dramatic camera moves and music, and brings Kasparov and IBM's staff back together for testy confrontations, in which Kasparov contends that he was treated as a patsy by a corporation overstating its capabilities.

Jayanti should've done more with The Turk, which many technology historians have positioned as central to the ongoing story of artificial intelligence, since it points out how much people want to believe in A.I., yet how impossible real A.I. might be. Game Over offers just a little to chew on regarding the way human interference compromises fairness in a match of man vs. machine. Can a Deep Blue programmed specifically to beat Kasparov really be acting "independently"? Mostly, Jayanti ducks this question in favor of speculative accusations with no hard evidence.

Still, in spite of clunky effects and often extraordinarily ugly video footage, Game Over works very well just as a sports doc. Jayanti builds Kasparov up as a character, tracing his background as the rebel strategist of Soviet chess, and delving into the details of the Deep Blue match, with specifics about psychological strategies used by both Kasparov and the IBM team. Kasparov planned to force the computer to play dumb by pushing it into "closed" positions, but since he'd never gotten to see this version of Deep Blue play, he had no idea what the computer was capable of, which made it hard for him to formulate a winning game plan. As he gets increasingly uptight, Game Over becomes a gripping look at how much emotion factors into gamesmanship. Jayanti could've used this as a path into the ongoing debate about whether machines will ever be able to replicate that kind of emotion, but Game Over stays on a lower level. Too often, it mirrors the tone of Charles Osgood's report on the Deep Blue match, which concludes, "The future of humanity may be on the line. Now, the weather."