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Silicon vs. the leetle grey cells

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The credibility of the human race is on the line, as a new six match man vs. machine chess tournament is announced in London. From 21-26 June, Hydra, the most powerful chess-playing computer ever built, will take on the rather puny-by-comparison UK chess Grandmaster, Michael Adams at the Wembley Centre. A purse of £80,000 is up for grabs, but more than that: the reputation of the species is on the line.

Hydra is really quite whizzy, for a piece of computer kit. It can analyse up to 200 million chess moves per second, and plan 18 to 40 moves ahead, that is six more than IBM's Deep Blue, for those who like to keep track of these thing. The machine's computational power can also be turned to DNA or fingerprint matching (one second to match a finger print in a database of 60 million), code breaking (can calculate every prime number between one and a sexdicillion in just five minutes), space travel and complex system calculations.

By contrast, Michael Adams can calculate 1.4 chess moves per second, and has won 62.5 per cent of his professional games since 1979. He can also make tea, boil an egg and be moved by poetry. All of these activities are though to be beyond Hydra's grasp.

Adams, who first won the British Championships on his debut in 1989, aged just 17, is talking a good fight: "This is an awesome challenge," he says. "I have played nearly 2,000 games in international chess tournaments, but I've never faced an opponent quite like this. I'm really looking forward to matching wits with the ultimate opponent to prove that nothing can match the power of human creativity."

But Hydra's management is not looking scared. After all the machine has never lost to a human opponent. Faced with Adam's big talk, Muhammad Nasir Ali, Hydra's chief technology officer, sneered: "We're confident even Mr. Adams will have trouble landing a blow against our silicon champion." ®

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