Illustration for article titled Watch a computer think through how its going to beat you at chess

If pop culture has taught me anything, it's that computers love a good game of chess. Chess is now comparatively passé in the world of artificial intelligence playing games, surpassed by the more complex game of Go, but it's still fascinating to watch computer chess machines work.


Enter Thinking Machine 6.

Thinking Machine 6 is the latest iteration of an interactive chess visualization created by computer scientist-cum-artist Martin Wattenberg (who currently works on data visualization at Google). The program lets you play chess against a computer, but it also visualizes the computer's thought process in real time. It's fascinating; you won't be able to stop playing a game with it once you start.

When it's your turn the board gently pulses, showing the pieces the computer is paying the most attention to. When the computer is thinking during its turn, a web of green and orange lines appear, mapping out the myriad sets of future moves either player could make based on the current layout of the board. It's remarkable to watch not only because it's really pretty, but because of how much thought the computer will put into its move even if the human player does something really dumb, like making their queen easy to take:

Wattenberg and various collaborators have been creating versions of Thinking Machine since 2002, though this is the first internet-based version to be debuted since Thinking Machine 4, which appeared online in 2004. As its design suggests, the computer isn't meant to be an impossible-to-beat machine—it's "designed to be at the same level as the average viewer of the piece"—but rather to demonstrate the complexities of a basic computer chess machine.

You could even hypothetically use the computer's thinking to your advantage if you're very observant. Wattenberg lays out how on Thinking Machine's site:

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.


Even if you can't beat it, the complexity is something to behold. Sometimes the computer thinks so long that the threads overlap more and more, and sinewy new threads of possibility become so thin they're hard to see.

Go take a look! Getting beaten at chess has rarely been so beautiful.

Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at

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