Computer Scientist Feng-hsiung Hsu

Computer scientist Feng-hsiung Hsu is the principal designer for Deep Blue, the chess-playing super computer that defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. Hsu later wrote about Deep Blue’s development and ultimate victory in the book Behind Deep Blue: Building the Computer that Defeated the World Chess Champion.

Feng-hsiung Hsu was born in Taiwan. While in junior high school he was given the nickname “Crazy Bird”. Feng is a homonym of the Mandarin for “crazy”, and some classmates perceived him to be eccentric. The nickname would follow Hsu throughout his professional career. Hsu finished college in Taiwan and came to the U.S. in 1985 to pursue a Pd.D. in the field of computer chess at Carnegie Mellon University. After 6 months of intense lab work Hsu developed his first single-chip move generator which he named Chiptest.

Hsu’s work on Chiptest became the basis for Deep Thought which won his computer chess team the Fredkin Intermediate Prize in 1988 for achieving grandmaster-level performance. Deep Thought was the first chess-playing computer ever to defeat human grandmasters in actual tournament play.

The following year IBM recruited Hsu to further develop Deep Thought. It was later renamed Deep Blue, IBM’s play on its corporate nickname Big Blue for the match against world chess champ Garry Kasparov. Hsu’s work on Deep Blue earned him the Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1991.

On February 10, 1966 Deep Blue became the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion. However, in the next five games the 33-year old Garry Kasparov won three and drew two to beat Deep Blue by a score of 4-2.

Taking a brute-force approach for the rematch, Hsu’s team doubled their supercomputer’s processing power and gave it the code name “Deeper Blue”. On May 11 1997 Deeper Blue won the first of six games in the re-match against Kasparov. The next four games were draws, giving each player a half point. In the sixth game, Kasparov made a mistake in the opening, ensuring a draw and a final score of 3 1/2 to 2 1/2. Deep Blue became the first computer system to defeat a reigning world champion in a match under standard chess tournament time controls.

After his loss Kasparov claimed there were moments when he saw “deep intelligence” and “creativity” in the machine’s moves, implying that human players had intervened during the second game. IBM denied his accusations. Kasparov requested printouts of the machine’s log files. IBM refused and dismantled Deep Blue. The company later published the logs on the internet.

In his book Behind Deep Blue Hsu claimed that he had the rights to use the Deep Blue design to build a bigger machine to take Kasparov’s rematch offer. Kasparov’s people refused, saying that Hsu’s offer was empty, with no sponsors, no money, no hardware or technical team and no guarantees of fair playing conditions or proper qualification matches. This response led to a series of heated correspondences between Hsu and Kasparov.

Hsu left IBM after 10 years to work briefly for Compaq before joining Microsoft to head up the Platform and Device Center at its Asia Research Center in Beijing. He lives with his wife, a venture capitalist. In recent years Hsu appears to have lost interest in “building the ultimate chess machine”. He has turned his professional focus to algorithm design, parallel software design, high performance system architectures, VLSI design and special purpose computing.