In 1997, Garry Kasparov, the former world champion and one of the greatest minds in Chess, was defeated in a 6-game match by Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer. Kasparov had beaten a less-robust version of Deep Blue the year before, but lost the first game, which in itself was already a portent of things to come. Since then, Kasparov has spent a considerable amount of time reflecting upon the computer era, digitisation and the rise of Artificial Intelligence. He prefers to call it ‘Augmented’ Intelligence, however, as he has embraced the potential power of a proactive human-machine relationship as a path to a better future. He’s a regular at conferences and workshops, such as the recent Microsoft co-sponsored FUTUREwork Convention & Festival in Berlin, Germany, to promote the benefits of combining the cognitive power of humans and AI.
Technology has certainly advanced since 1997. In the days of Deep Blue, the primary algorithm used to program similar computers was called brute-force, an exhaustive search problem-solving technique. Brute-force is about running an algorithm that looks at specific parameters, then tries to find all possible solutions, eventually choosing which it deems the most suitable. In Chess, Deep Blue could analyse 200 million potential moves per second, allowing it to map out close to 75 moves in advance, far greater than humans are capable. As Kasparov notes, that isn’t really Artificial Intelligence, but simply churning through options and alternatives faster than he ever could. Because Chess is a game where one player can capitalize on another’s mistakes, the sheer volume and speed of analysis give computers an edge.
Today, a smartphone has as much computational power as Deep Blue, yet Kasparov still doesn’t believe Artificial Intelligence has arrived in any common form. For him, true AI is when a machine makes decisions in a ‘black box’ with reasons and choices that are impossible to discern. We are still only at the stage where Narrow AI (sometimes called Weak AI) is prevalent. Narrow AI works within a limited range of pre-defined functions, and includes the likes of Siri and Alexa. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), Kasparov’s ‘true AI’, is the next goal. Kasparov cites DeepMind’s AlphaGo as an example, but AGI is still in its infancy. More and more is coming, however, with DeepMind (now owned by Google) recently unveiling Impala, one of the most advanced set of algorithms that mimic human learning.
Kasparov wants to dispel, however, the Hollywood portrayal of machines and AI learning as capable of taking over the world. Along with any major disruptive change, of course, comes general fear and mistrust. With Artificial Intelligence, it’s manifested in a range of worries, particularly around the very real prospect of a loss of jobs to machines and destructive uses of its cognitive functions. Kasparov dismisses the panic, however, as unfounded, noting that major historical disruptions of the past, such as how agriculture and manufacturing processes changed dramatically in the 19th and 20th centuries, actually created new tasks, new jobs and even new industries. And yes, while it has caused job losses in certain sectors, the overall gains have been positive.
And this is where Kasparov is really attempting to make his voice heard. He believes humankind is not prepared for AI’s disruptive future, and education is central to that effort. Educating the youth of the world is primarily still being done as it has been for centuries, in a classroom with a teacher imparting knowledge onto the student population. Uni-directional. From Kasparov’s point of view, that’s simply outdated. A child already has access to more knowledge than any teacher can impart by simply looking it up on their smartphone. We need to change towards encouraging creativity and a positive, interactive exchange between humans and machines. Ultimately, we need to teach how to learn, not what to learn, as knowledge learned today may be redundant a decade from now anyway and is easily accessible regardless.
As an optimist, Kasparov believes the opportunity is there for machines to make humans smarter. It does require humankind to put aside its fears, reshape the educational process, and focus on integrating humans with machines to achieve powerful outcomes. For Kasparov, however, we can dream beyond our own limited capabilities if we let machines help us achieve it.
Featured Images: Garry Kasparov at the FUTUREwork Convention & Festival by the author; The compilation photo consists of an IBM Computer similar to Deep Blue by Jim Gardner and Garry Kasparov by Owen Williams