Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov: The next move in the AI gambit

“Humans + machines” facing other “humans + machines,” says chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. That is how he sees it, that the future of intelligent work is not about humans versus machines, but for humans and machines to work together.

Mr Kasparov should know. After being crowned as the world’s youngest-ever chess champion in 1985 at age 22, he went on to play against IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in 1996. It was a match touted as man versus machine. He won. But their rematch in 1997 created a bigger uproar. He lost. 

Recounting the match in a recent webinar organised by NUS Business School’s Centre on AI Technology for Humankind (AiTH), Mr Kasparov said, “Initially, I thought it was a curse for me. Now I think it was a blessing.”

The match stirred his interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how humans interact with machines. Mr Kasparov is also the author of the book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.

Recently, Mr Kasparov and Provost Chair and Professor David De Cremer, Founder and Director of AiTH, published a piece together in Harvard Business Review titled “AI should augment human intelligence, not replace it”. Building on the ideas discussed in this paper, the webinar, titled “The Future of Intelligent Work: A Conversation with GM Garry Kasparov”, discussed the competition between man and machine, the effective use of AI, and creating inclusive teams.

AI not a job terminator

While it seemed that AI had threatened his status as a chess grandmaster, Mr Kasparov did not think that AI is a job terminator. He reiterated that these machines are built by humans and we should not believe the Hollywood movies where machines represent a bleak future for humans.

“AI is not a magic wand, but it is also not a terminator,” said Mr Kasparov. “We know innovation always helps us become more sophisticated.”

Some people naturally get worried when they see AI doing tasks such as newswriting and generating tweets. But Mr Kasparov is optimistic. The jobs that can be replaced by AI are zombie jobs and “machines always create new jobs”, he said.

“If we only focus on the technological disruption, we will delay or miss out on the productivity that will come later,” said Mr Kasparov, who added that disruptions such as the pandemic force humans to move forward faster. From “working like machines” to “working like humans” Prof De Cremer, whose research centre, AiTH, focuses primarily on understanding the use of AI in organisations and business, asked about the role of AI in the future of training the workforce and in education.

“Over the last few decades, one of the compliments for the workforce was that these guys work like machines,” Mr Kasparov quipped. “Now we want them to work like humans.”

He felt that the traditional classrooms of the past were about imparting knowledge in a one-way direction. Now, when knowledge and data are easily accessible online, students learn about how to apply knowledge.  “You have to teach them creativity and they will develop their unique qualities,” said Mr Kasparov. If in the course of work, “humans contribute 2 per cent and machines contribute 96 per cent, and we achieve 98 per cent efficiency, that's ok”.

Prof De Cremer concurred, saying that this 2 per cent contribution, though small, is the most important contribution to ensure that the work is meaningful and makes a difference.

Humans and machines in facing crises

Both Prof De Cremer and Mr Kasparov felt that with machines helping to take care of repetitive and routine tasks, humans will have more room to engage in the creative aspects of work.

Mr Kasparov said that in the last few decades, humans have been mitigating risks. Pharmaceutical companies have been making drugs that are tried-and-tested, instead of inventing drugs that may help more people but also bear more litigation risk initially.

When the pandemic happened, this trend reversed.

Mr Kasparov is confident that machines will make humans better prepared for future crises. He also believes in the strategies developed by humans. “Data collection is endless. At what point do you want to say, enough is enough, we want to make a decision? Humans need to tell machines when to make the trade-off between time taken to collect data and quality of the results.”

A win for humanity

A participant pointed out that the understanding and development of technology tend to be limited to a few parties, such as those who are tech-savvy or first-world countries. Would that be a valid reason for the development of technology to slow down?

“That’s a wrong perspective,” Mr Kasparov answered. “Everybody benefits, some more, some less, but everybody benefits.”

An example is online diagnosis, which makes healthcare more accessible to those in poorer countries. Instead of having to travel long distances to visit a hospital or clinic, the patient can now know the diagnosis through online consultations.

“There will be wins and losses, we should look at the balance, whether that means humanity wins,” said Mr Kasparov.

The 25 March webinar, which attracted about 180 online attendees, was held in collaboration with Thinkers50. The session was moderated by Prof De Cremer, with Mr Antony Cook, Regional Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel at Microsoft Asia, giving the introduction.