Check it out, Mate!
Check out the chess board above—looks wrong, right?
If you’ve ever played chess, you know something’s amiss, here. For one thing, someone chose to exchange a pawn for another bishop instead of a queen. For another, virtually all the action’s moved to the left side of a board.
It’s hard to imagine how the game got here—it’s even harder to imagine what happens next, let alone a scenario in which four white pawns and a white king could play to a draw, or even win this game.
Image: James tagg
The Penrose Chess Puzzle: Can you find the solution that results in either a white win or a game draw?
Yet: scientists at the newly-formed Penrose Institute say it’s not only possible, but that human players see the solution almost instantly, while chess computers consistently fail to find the right move.
“We plugged it into Fritz, the standard practice computer for chess players, which did three-quarters of a billion calculations, 20 moves ahead," explained James Tagg Co-Founder and Director of the Penrose Institute, which was founded this week to understand human consciousness through physics.
"It says that one-side or the other wins. But," Tagg continued, "the answer that it gives is wrong."
Tagg and his co-founder, Mathematical Physicist and professor Sir Roger Penrose—who successfully proved that black holes have a singularity in them—cooked up the puzzle to prove a point: Human brains think differently.
(Those who figure out the puzzle can send their answers to Penrose to be entered to win the professor’s latest book.)
Humans can look at a problem like this strange chess board configuration, said Tagg, and understand it. “What a computer does is brute force calculation, which is different. This is set up, rather exquisitely, to show the difference,” he added.
They forced the computer out of its comfort zone by, at least in part, making an unusual choice: the third bishop.
“All those bishops can move in lots of different ways, so you get computation explosion. To calculate it out would suck up more than computing power than is available on earth,” claimed Tagg.
Tagg told us that there is, in fact, a natural way to get to this board configuration.
Image: lance ulanoff/mashable
We’re trying to figure it our here, but lacked an extra black bishop. So we tagged one to keep track.
Sir Richard Penrose’s brother is, according to Tagg, a very strong chess player. “He assures me that it’s a position you can get to, but I have not played it through. Question is, is there a rational game that gets you there?”
In fact, those who can figure out that second puzzle and get the answer to Penrose, could also receive a free copy of Professor Penrose’s book.
Chess computers fail at Penrose’s chess puzzle because they have a database of end-games to choose from. This board is not, Tagg and Penrose believe, in the computer’s playbook. “We’re forcing the chess machine to actually think about the position, as opposed to cheat and just regurgitate a pre-programmed answer, which computers are perfect at,” said Tagg.
So far, Tagg and the Penrose Institute haven’t heard from an artificial intelligence experts refuting their claims. “I’m quite surprised,” said Tagg.
Mashable has contacted several AI experts for comment and will update this post with their response.
Aside from the fun of solving this puzzle (Tagg said hundreds already have and claim they have done so in seconds), it poses a deeper question: Are we executing some fiendishly clever algorithm in our brain, that cuts through the chaff? It is just a higher level of computation, one that computers can still aspire to or something unique to brain-matter-based thought?
Tagg said Penrose Institute falls into the latter camp.
Penrose and Tagg don’t think you can simply call a brain a machine. “It sits in skull, made of gray matter and we don’t understand how it works. Simply calling it a clever computer, this sort of puzzle shows that it clearly is not,” he said.
You can send your Chess Puzzle solution to the Penrose Institute here: firstname.lastname@example.org.