Imagine yourself a piece in a game of checkers. The other day you’d have been assured that an intellect vastly larger than your own knows everything there is to know about you and the world in which you find yourself, can foresee all, and has an answer for everything. If you lacked religion before, you’d have it now.

But the grandmasters of chess still flog themselves silly losing to computers programmed to think hundreds of moves ahead in microseconds. Because chess is so complex that no computer completely contains the game and it is generally believed no computer ever will, humans continue to take them on, probing for the chinks in their armor. Once they were cocky humans playing mere machines; now they’re mortals challenging flawed gods. Checkers is lucky. If an artificial intelligence that played chess were ever perfected, the grandmasters could stop dwelling on it. Perfection isn’t interesting — except when we secretly don’t think it is.

ADDENDUM: For a taste of being a mere piece on a board ruled by an incomprehensible authority dig out the old short story “The Immortal Game” by Poul Anderson.