A few weeks ago I attended the International Joint Conference in Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Stockholm. It is one of the premier AI research conferences, and one that I have published in many times.
We traveled to Stockholm via Iceland, where I was delighted to get together with UAlberta alumni Yngvi Bjornsson, Bjorn Bjornsson, and Marius Olafsson. Yngvi kindly toured us around, including helping me make a pilgrimage to the grave of Robert James Fischer -- Bobby Fisher, world chess champion 1972-1975. We do not need to go into the sad story of his life post his winning the world championship. However, to a young impressionable chess player in the early 1970s, Bobby was electrifying. He had to win every game, eschewing the easy draw. He played bold creative chess, resulting in numerous games of incredible beauty. He challenged the Soviet chess juggernaut -- and won. He was inspirational. I studied his games and dreamed of becoming the world chess champion.
|Yngvi Bjornsson and Jonathan Schaeffer at the grave of Robert J. Fischer|
I never came close to being world champion (although I am a ranked master). However, it motivated me to go into artificial intelligence research. If I could not be the world champion, then maybe I could build a program to be the world champion. I did not achieve that goal either (although my program Phoenix tied for first in the 1986 World Computer Chess Championship). Deep Blue came along and, well, the rest is history.
In the end I did become world champion: at checkers! Our checkers-playing program Chinook became the first program in any game to win a human world championship. And that would not have happened had I not been inspired by Bobby Fischer.