Artificial Intelligence

20 Years After Deep Blue, a New Era in Human-Machine Collaboration

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On May 11, 1997, an IBM computer called Deep Blue defeated the reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, capturing the attention and imagination of the world. The six-game match lasted several days and ended with two wins for IBM, one for the champion and three draws.

The match was cast as the ultimate example of man versus machine. Yet, Kasparov himself is now a self-described proponent of artificial intelligence (AI), recently calling it a boon to humankind, “capable of providing us with endless opportunities to extend our capabilities and improve our lives.”

This view mirrors IBM’s. We too believe the promise of AI lies in its capacity to augment human abilities and intellect.

Over the last 20 years, IBM has worked to advance the field of AI. Deep Blue used algorithms to explore up to 200 million possible chess positions per second, then chose the move with the highest likelihood of success. While Deep Blue did use machine learning approaches, it relied primarily on a programmed understanding of the game of chess – 64 squares, 32 pieces and well-defined moves and goals.

IBM Deep Blue team members wheel the system through the streets of New York City to Rockefeller Center at 4:00AM, May 11, 1997.

Fourteen years after Deep Blue’s win, IBM applied AI to the more dynamic real-world challenge of Jeopardy! This represented a huge step forward from playing chess, given the quiz show could cover questions on just about anything. IBM Watson incorporated facets of AI, machine learning, deep question answering and natural language processing to play and, ultimately, bested the game’s greatest human champions.

Much was learned in pitting AI systems against human opponents. Most significant is the realization that AI can best be used to fill the gaps in human ability, and vice versa. AI technology has evolved significantly, but AI systems are not nearly as good as humans at common sense reasoning or thinking creatively and strategically. Such gaps will likely remain for decades to come.

The Deep Blue Team 1997: Chung-Jen Tan,  Murray Campbell, Joe Hoane, Feng-Hsiung Hsu, and Jerry Brody.

Therefore, we must factor the abilities and limitations of both machines and humans to create combined systems that enable outcomes better than what either could achieve alone. The promise of AI lies in the combination of man and machine.

IBM Watson shows what is possible. The cognitive system has been applied to real-world challenges such as helping doctors diagnose patients, teachers to provide personalized curriculum to students, tax preparers to help clients file returns and oil and gas engineers to ensure compliance.

IBM Watson is on track to be used in some form by a billion people by the end of 2017. In the next five years, many important decisions, be they business or personal, will be made with the assistance of a cognitive system like Watson.

IBM’s goal is to accelerate human ability to create, learn, make decisions, and think, opening a new era in human-machine collaboration.

Distinguished Research Staff Member, Cognitive Computing, IBM

Daniel Del Ángel

Great and inspiring retrospective!


So I appreciate the fact that AI is able to help make decisions and would love to find some way to apply it to my day-to-day work. It seems, however, that AI is much more useful at a high (corporate) level for forecasts and data mining. At a low level (Dept level) it seems much harder to apply. Are there any ideas on how to apply it at a low level?

Bob Williams

I read the book “Behind Deep Blue” by Feng-Hsiung Hsu. Pretty good read.

John A. Rodriguez

Well written. Nice look back at some of the initial steps and efforts that have lead to the cognitive era. Hard to believe the chess match was 20 years ago.


In my opinion IBM is not failing in the PR battle for AI despite being one of the pioneers.

When I go through various tech website there are talks about the activities related to AI of tiny/new companies and obviously the BIG ones however I hardly read anything about the prowess of IBM past and the current
developments related to IBM AI.

The marketing team of IBM need to up their game.

Chirag Khasia

Really nicely put reminder from the history. 🙂 If I remember correctly the first IBM product I used was the 1.44MB floppy disk back in 1999. Thank you!

Edwin Pell

Murray a wonderful and impressive accomplishment.

With 20 years of Moore’s law and the pleasantly wide compute paths of neural network we now have self learning machines that use strategy in a human like way and reach international master level in 72 hours.

Leo Kenji

the book “the signal and the noise” by Nate Silver tells the story of Deep Blue (each chapter tells some story related to breakthrough IA/Analytics challenges). I strongly recommend this book.


I recently read Luke Dormehl’s Thinking Machines and he had this to say on Deep Blue on Kasparov:
When Kasparov lost to IBM’s chess playing computer Deep Blue, he commented that he saw deep intelligence and creativity in the machine’s moves – hinting not that AI had developed these qualities, but rather IBM was somehow cheating by using human chess players behind the scenes.

Gustavo Busarello

It is really good to remember this part of IBM history and see where we are and where we are going to. Really nice!!!

Stephen Ciulla

Fond memories, followed as a chessplayer long before my time as an IBM’er. Thanks for sharing the milestone. So much of what we are doing today was inspired by these events.


Great reading. Proud to be an IBMer.

Marinel Cepriaso

Simply Amazing!

Michael Tapia

I wonder has there been any more matches between chess champions and Deep Blue? If not why?

Next question, can they, with modern technology make Deep Blue small enough to fit in a human skull, it looked bigger the 2 people in that picture.

Chuck Treppeda

The center photo above was a clandestine operation I organized (4AM) to wheel Deep Blue from the Stage of the Equitable building to Rockefeller Center in hopes of getting some publicity on the Today Show. Deep Blue ended up spending a couple of minutes on air with meteorologist Janice Huff.

Maris van Sprang

Deep Blue showed that it was capable of defeating one of the strongest chess players ever with a “programmed understanding of the game of chess”.
Will we ever be capable to make a similar strong cognitive chess program that learns and plays the game like humans do? Could it explain humans why it plays moves in human understandable terminology leading to improved human-machine collaboration in chess?

Michael Raschovsky

What a great lock back on that milestone 20 years ago and incredible how fast the world and the technology had changed since than.

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