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International Business Machines Corp. (IBM): A Look Back

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International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)On this day in economic and business history …

“At some point in the early 21st century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI.” — Morpheus, from The Matrix, written by Larry and Andy Wachowski.

It wasn’t marked with quite the same display of celebratory unity Morpheus envisioned, and it arrived a few years early, but a major turning point in the development of artificial intelligence occurred on May 11, 1997. That day, an International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) purpose-built supercomputer named Deep Blue became the first machine to ever defeat a reigning chess world champion in a tournament series. Deep Blue had previously taken two game wins in a 4-2 loss, but after heavy upgrades to hardware and programming, the new Deep Blue (Deeper Blue?) defeated Garry Kasparov 3.5 to 2.5, with two wins and three draws — draws counting as half a point.

The upgraded Deep Blue was so narrowly focused that it’s hard to call it anything other than single-use AI, as Wired recounts:

Deep Blue, reprogrammed using the input of several grandmasters and a detailed analysis of Kasparov’s previous games, was tailored specifically to defeat the Russian champion. The 1997 version of Deep Blue was capable of making any one of 200 million moves per second, although Kasparov said afterward that he caught the computer making a humanlike mistake in move 44 of the second game. …

The dethroned champ demanded a rematch, but International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) — having reaped the desired publicity — declined, and Deep Blue was retired.

Years later, one of Deep Blue’s designers admitted that the most notable move of the whole match, one that Kasparov thought showed evidence of human response, was the result of a bug. More recently, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) has moved on to better AI, most notably the Watson computer best known for a dominating Jeopardy! victory over two of that game’s best players. Chess programs have also continued to advance. In 2006, a chess program known as Deep Fritz beat then-reigning champion Vladimir Kramnik while running on a dual-processor consumer PC. Will we, as dethroned Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings put it in his futile (but humorous) final answer, “welcome our new robot overlords”? Or will the next generation of AI come to be seen as something far more sinister — like 2001‘s HAL-9000, itself connected to IBM through the filmmaker’s design cues?

Lovely Spam, wonderful Spam
Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE:HRL)
first registered the trademark for Spam (a spiced ham in a can, if you’ve been living under a rock these past few decades) on May 11, 1937. The product has been a big hit for Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE:HRL), particularly on the Pacific Rim — Hawaiians eat 7 million cans per year, Southeast Asians give Spam gift packs as wedding presents, and a restaurant called the Spam Jam (serving nothing but spam, of course) emerged in the Philippines to capitalize on the national taste. I wonder if the menu at the Spam Jam reads like the dialogue to that Monty Python sketch that launched the term into the cultural zeitgeist. “I’ll have Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, and Spam.”

Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE:HRL) has diversified in more recent years, so Spam now accounts for only about 6% of its revenue, but its value as cultural shorthand for “mass-emailed message of dubious provenance” is invaluable. Did you know that the first example of Internet spam occurred in 1994? Clean out your inbox and celebrate a brief respite from email spam with a can of Spam.

From depression to Great Depression
The great Austrian bank Credit-Anstalt, or CA, collapsed on May 11, 1931. A last-minute injection of $23 million by the Austrian government couldn’t save the bank. When it failed, it pulled a struggling global economy beneath the waves with it, leading to repercussions that would have deadly consequence for millions around the world.

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