Computers have dominated humans at chess for a number of years. They’re getting better, too (although they are still completely reliant on us squishy humans for improvements). But however good they are right now, we’re not completely licked, yet, as I realized while reminiscing about one of the extracurricular events I participated in during high school.
In high school, I was on my school’s first CanadaFIRST robotics competition team. Each school participating in the competition is tasked with building a robot to play some sport against robots from other schools; that year, it was hockey. At the time, the school was wanting for material resources; I still remember classrooms without chalk and which two rooms had working pencil sharpeners. Established student clubs did not always get the $20-$100 of funding they requested; the bridge club I helped start at Trinity College, the Gin and Bridge Society, spent far more than that on alcohol in its first year of existence.
Since it was our first time competing and we decided to participate relatively late in the school year, our student council hadn’t set aside any money for us, not that the amount we could expect to receive would be significant relative even only to our registration fee. Instead, each participant contributed $100 out of pocket and the remainder of our expenses, primarily the entry fee, which included robot parts, was covered by sponsors and fundraising. Fundraising for such an event at the school was like milking a cat: it was doable, but not pretty.
In the end, we put together a robot using the parts we were given, random items we found in dumpsters, leftover metal sheets, nails/screws from the art room. Oh, and a container of Dremel bits for $1. What we built was a scrappy little robot that was by far the lightest and smallest one at the competition since all we had was the kit parts we started with and some of the unwanted materials we obtained. Though we didn’t have anywhere near one of the highest-scoring robots, we did manage to score several goals and stay away from last place.
However, we declared a moral victory. On a points-per-dollar spent scale (beyond registration costs), our robot had a value of $10; the competition organizers require a calculation of robot value based on a fair market price for any donated/found materials. This was the cheapest robot by a wide margin. We also won on a points-per-pound basis. Sure, there were no awards for this, but one can dream.
How does this all relate back to humans losing at chess to computers? Well, human brains win on ELO points-per-watt (about 65 points per watt for the best humans) and ELO points-per-pound. But if moral victories aren’t your cup of tea, play go or poker with a computer. We still win.