Chess-Championship Results Show Powerful Role of Computers

In the world chess championship match that ended Friday in India, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, the cool, charismatic 22-year-old challenger and the highest-rated player in chess history, defeated local hero Viswanathan Anand, the 43-year-old champion. Mr. Carlsen’s winning score of three wins and seven draws will cement his place among the game’s all-time greats. But his success also illustrates a paradoxical development: Chess-playing computers, far from revealing the limits of human ability, have actually pushed it to new heights.

The last chess match to get as much publicity as Mr. Carlsen’s triumph was the 1997 contest between then-champion Garry Kasparov and International Business Machines Corp.’s Deep Blue computer in New York City. Some observers saw that battle as a historic test for human intelligence. The outcome could be seen as an “early indication of how well our species might maintain its identity, let alone its superiority, in the years and centuries to come,” wrote Steven Levy in a Newsweek cover story titled “The Brain’s Last Stand.”

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