The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Meet the world’s least ambitious AI

By Jacob Sweet

12 Apr 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Martin is a chess bot that is bad on purpose. And that's exactly why he's very popular. It's a reminder that AI can delight—and even teach—as long as there is a clear framework, writes The Atlantic.

When IBM’s Deep Blue first defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997, the world chess champion accused the company of cheating. There was no way, he thought, that the computer could have beaten him without direct assistance from a skilled human player. But now the situation has flipped entirely. When grandmasters find themselves at the receiving end of a few mind-blowingly brilliant moves today, they accuse their opponent of using a computer. The only worthwhile competition for top chess engines is one another. The programs have become too powerful; humankind has lost.

But as the machines push toward chess perfection, one bot stands firmly in the way, refusing to accept a dominant position in the robot-human hierarchy. That holdout is Martin—the worst computer opponent on Chess.com, by far the most popular chess website in the world. Whereas programs such as ChatGPT dazzle, perplex, and frighten users with increasing computational prowess, Martin is programmed to be awful at chess. Surrounded by ambitious generative-AI products that often deliver incorrect or incoherent responses with brazen confidence, Martin is the rare humble bot that understands and embraces its profound limitations. It has lost when given 31 queens against an army of dinky pawns, which is a bit like breaking your arm in three places while attempting to velcro a shoe.

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