The Art of Fear

The Art of Fear

Orange is Him, blue is you. Frankly, it's terrifying.

I’ve heard that there is a fear of the unknown, the main reason behind racism and homophobia, the sneaking terror of that which is different overwhelming and controlling you, altering your way of life so that you cannot live how you want to. It works in horror films too, wondering just where the killer/dinosaurs/monsters/clowns are, knowing that they could just be around the corner, only to find that they were hiding in the closet all the time. Except not the dinosaurs. They’re usually in the bushes.

Anyway, I dispute all that; I say that real fear can only be attained by knowing how something works, but catching a glimpse of understanding of the mind behind an antagonist. Look at Silence of the Lambs, look at Hannibal Lecter. He’s utterly terrifying, but only because we can sympathise and understand (to an extent) what makes him tick.

So in comes Thinking Machine 4, a simple game of Chess made by Martin Wattenberg and Marek Walczak, based in flash but with an interesting twist. Every time you make a move, from the first Pawn taking a trembling step forward, to the omnipotent Queen moving into Check Mate, the computer begins to figure out how to beat you. It’s calculating the risk of every more, working a hundred steps ahead of you to make sure you can’t thwart it. And you can see it all. The game draws sweeping strokes across the board depicting moves from your side and his, certain paths becoming thicker as different pieces move hypothetically across the squares. It’s beautiful to watch until you realise that there is no way you could possible understand everything that is going on in his binary mind. Then you begin to sweat, and become anxious, knowing that every time you move, you’ll bear witness to the brilliance of an artificial construct at work. It is almost humiliating to play, being dwarfed by such obvious intimidation. I swear it makes you make stupid moves, just to stop him thinking. This is what real fear looks like, and it’s really rather pretty. So go play it, and tremble.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Fear

  1. Apparently the AI isn’t actually that clever, and any sort of respectable Chess player can beat him. I, however, am not a respectable chess player. Unfortunately.

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