MT VOID 05/16/97 (Vol. 15, Number 46)

MT VOID 05/16/97 (Vol. 15, Number 46)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/16/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 46

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
              Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  908-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  908-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  908-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
              Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  908-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  908-957-2070
Backissues available at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: The *correct* Darwin Awards Home Page. Note that the "Lawn Chair Pilot" was not a Darwin winner, and the JATO/Impala story was an urban legend. [-ecl]


As of this writing the match between Garry Kasparov, the best chess player in the world and Big Blue, the chess-playing computer from IBM, has just finished its six games. Each player had one a game and then there were three draws. Going into the sixth game Kasparov was said to be tense. That says something right there. It is a bad sign for a chess player to go into a game in a bad mental state. Big Blue on the other hand went into the sixth game with complete abandon, what the French call "sang froid. " For all Big Blue cared, it was just another day. Big Blue was just playing for the electrical current he needed. There certainly were a lot of people who were hoping Kasparov would win the tournament. He was sort of the protoplasmic equivalent of "the Great White Hope."

In a way, Kasparov was--the phrase that comes to mind is from the famous WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast--"consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth." I think there were few of us who were actually rooting for the computer. I know I was, however. I dont have my pride all wrapped around having humans remain superior to machines. In a lot of physical ways machines have been superior to humans for a long time, and nobody resents a bulldozer. I would like to see machines surpass us intellectually also. I would like to see a computer program be better than the best doctor in the world. Because then you could make multiple copies of a doctor better than the best. Of course that would be risky in some ways also. There might be fewer people trying to become doctors and with machines doing medicine, the field might stagnate. But I would like to see the capability there. The thing is that computers are natural slaves of humanity. It would be really stupid of us to start giving them rights. But the more intelligent the slave, the better, as long as computers have to will to rebel.

What happened with the sixth and final game was fairly interesting. Kasparov lost. The way these things are scored, that means that Kasparov won 2.5 games out of 6, Big Blue won 3.5 out of 6. But then Kasparov said that this last game meant nothing and that Big Blue cheated. Now this may be the most public chess match ever to feature an accusation of cheating. Cheating is possible in poker where there is a strong element of luck in the shuffle of the deck. It is much harder to cheat in chess with a lot of people watching since what is on the board is really all there is. What was Kasparov thinking--that Big Blue said, "when he isn't looking, steal his rook"? Did he think that the IBM people brought in a ringer, THE CHESS HUSTLER FROM ANOTHER WORLD? Well, no, actually what he said was that Big Blue changed its strategy mid-game. As if Kasparov had never changed his strategy in the middle of a chess game. Somehow I wonder how much sympathy he expects--being the best human chess player in the world the IBM team could not bring in somebody better. To complain "It was an ambush; Big Blue changed its strategy" will probably not get a whole lot of sympathy. The people running Big Blue for some reason dignified this complaint with a vehement denial. Since the accusation is at worst that with a small human assist a computer can be the best chess player in the world. More likely the computer can be the best all on its lonesome.

But Kasparov's complaints notwithstanding it would appear that the greatest chess player in the world is one made of metal and silicon. This capability, while a test of intelligence is not the same thing as the Turing Test. That is the classic test of computer intelligence, the ability to carry on a human conversation and not be distinguishable from a human. (I think an intermediate test should be can a computer bark like a dog well enough to be able to fool a dog into thinking it is of the same species.) On first consideration the Turing Test is certainly a more difficult task than playing chess for a computer. I mean chess is a somewhat limited game, always with a very small set of possible next moves. Conversations on the other hand can go in a very large number of directions. It certainly would be a lot tougher to train a computer for casual conversation. On the other hand it must be more than 98% of humanity that is capable of chit-chat. At least in theory there are no humans capable of doing what Big Blue has done--beating the world chess champion. [-mrl]

THE FIFTH ELEMENT (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Luc Besson's manic sci-fi adventure will likely accrue a following, but its fans will not include me. The film has great art direction but a farce of a plot that devolves into a lot of familiar elements rather than a few new ones. Besson has a good eye for a scene but a very forced sense of humor. There were a lot of good people who worked on this film and it is a pity their efforts came to so little. Rating: low 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 3 positive, 9 negative, 7 mixed

I wonder if this is a postmodern science fiction movie? If so I am willing to go back to the Modern and start over from there. THE FIFTH ELEMENT is what you would get if you combined a plot from HEAVY METAL comic magazine, the pacing of a Japanese anime film, and Terry Gilliam visualizations. It is a film that will probably have a cult following while others will find it, as my wife put it, appallingly bad. France is known for modest art films, and director Luc Besson is French, but he is a renegade with a style generally out of empty Hollywood action films. His previous films include LA FEMME NIKITA and LEON (U.S. title: THE PROFESSIONAL). Here he has made a film with perhaps the best art direction since BLADERUNNER and uses it to tell a dim-witted pop-sci-fi story. Besson, who also co-authored the screenplay, realized that a good plot might be hard to follow for some. He simulates the same effect by having a bad plot that just has a lot of stupid things happening very, very fast.

The Ultimate Evil comes visiting our solar system every 5000 years in the form of a huge glowing sphere that for some unexplained reason is trying to destroy the Earth. I guess that is just what huge glowing spheres do. With the help of some strange aliens and with four mystic stones we Earth people have been able to fend off the evil in the past. In 1914 the friendly aliens took the stones away for safekeeping. Previously they had been guarded by a long line of priests. The priests still know what do to about the coming evil, but no longer have the stones they need. Our main story is set early in the 23rd Century. The Evil is returning. There are forces of Good trying to stop the end of the world and forces of Evil trying to steal the stones. The leader of the evil forces is an industrialist named Zorg, played by Gary Oldman. Just what Zorg hopes to gain by letting his planet be destroyed, if it is his planet, is left as a loose end. I guess stealing mystic symbols is just what evil industrialists do. One of the good aliens is killed and cloned, but in cloned form seems to be a beautiful woman, Milla Jovovich as Le-Eluu. She is terrified of the humans who have cloned her and she takes a swan dive off a skyscraper (all buildings seem to be skyscrapers in the 23rd Century) and lands in the floating taxicab of Korben (Bruce Willis). This pulls Korben into the action and starts him on the quest for the four elemental stones.

Bruce Willis is in the lead and--as he seems to have wanted to show people with IN COUNTRY--he can act. He just chooses not to push himself much beyond the limited roles he has been playing. Of somewhat more interest is Milla Jovovich. Though much of the film she must speak a nonsense language--actually it sounds a lot like Italian--and makes it sound very natural. This is not generally considered an important acting skill, but here it was what was what was required and she does a very credible job. Gary Oldman at one time seemed to be the Robert Duvall of his generation. He would do well to stay away from Luc Besson films since this is the second film in which Besson has been able to coax from Oldman his very worst and most exaggerated performances. His performance here is at best just not notable, and that is really unusual for an otherwise very good actor. Ian Holm plays a priest of the line entrusted with alien secrets. Like Oldman, he has done better acting jobs and perhaps their efforts are exaggerated intentionally by Besson so nobody misses the point that this film is not intended to be taken entirely seriously.

This film had the budget, the art direction, the special effects, and the cast to make a much better film. One has the feeling that Besson is really talking down to his audiences and laughing up his sleeve. There are moments in this film that show what it could have been, but unfortunately it was no more than it was. This is a film that might be better to watch with the sound off. I rate it a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 908-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     The chief obstacle to the progress of
     the human race is the human race.
                                   -- Don Marquis