What is happening?
The artwork is an artificial intelligence program,
ready to play chess with the viewer. If the viewer confronts
the program, the computer's thought process is sketched on
screen as it plays. A map is created from the traces of literally
thousands of possible futures as the program tries to decide its best move.
Those traces become a key to the invisible lines of force in the game as
well as a window into the spirit of a thinking machine.
What do the images mean?
When it is your (White's) turn to move, the chess board will
gently pulse to show the influence of the various pieces.
Each white piece causes light ripples on the squares it attacks;
black pieces, in turn, add darker ripples.
machine (Black) is thinking, a network of curves is overlaid on the board.
The curves show potential moves—often
several turns in the future—considered by the computer. Orange curves
are moves by black; green curves are ones by white. The brighter curves
are thought by the program to be better for white.
Why is the computer so [easy/hard] to beat?
The chess playing engine is designed to
be at the same level as the average viewer of the piece.
If you're a tournament chess player, you would clobber most
casual players—and you'll clobber Thinking Machine 4 too. If you
barely remember the rules of the game, the artwork may clobber you
The chess engine we built is simple and
uses only basic algorithms from the 50s (alpha-beta pruning and quiescence search).
The program's unconventional initial moves may raise eyebrows among experts:
we did not give it an "opening book" of standard lines since we wanted it
to think through every position.
The goal of the piece is not to make an expert chess playing program
but to lay bare the complex
thinking that underlies all strategic thought.
What were Thinking Machines 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5?
, built in 2002, was an exploratory version that was similar
in concept to this but was completely different graphically and technically.
was an installation that looks like this one; it
was shown at the London ICA, 2003, as
part of the work of MW2MW show.
was an improved installation shown at Ars Electronica, 2004,
as part of the "Language of Networks" exhibit. A variation (3.1?) is in
the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and appeared in the
Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit in 2008. No. 4
was the first internet edition,
which appeared on Turbulence in 2004. Very sadly, Turbulence has
announced that it will no longer continue, and the technology of No. 4
has in any case become obsolete. No. 5
intended to be a physical installation, but has not yet
What is the technology behind this?
Who created this series?
Martin Wattenberg and Marek Walczak created the first versions. Johanna Kindvall
and Fernanda Viégas contributed to later versions.