Select Page

On the 11th May 1997, Garry Kasparov lost a chess match to a supercomputer. His match against IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer was a highly publicised affair; when he lost the sixth game to the machine, it seemed the unfathomable had happened.

For some people, losing one game in a six-game match might not be something to worry much about. Still, when the opponent is an embodiment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the protagonist, Kasparov, is regarded as the greatest chess player to play the game, the whole ordeal becomes a huge deal.

More than two decades after this match, a lot has changed for the match’s main characters. After the loss, Kasparov was understandably upset and expressed concerns the game might have been tipped in the machine’s favour. However, after dealing with the loss, he turned his focus towards how to use the experience as a means of helping others. This led him to write a book – Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins – which discusses human resiliency and how people can adapt to technological disruption.

Symbolic Significance

At the time, Deep Blue’s victory was a significant sign that AI was catching up to (and held the potential to surpass) human intelligence. Take the case of AlphaZero, a chess program that took hours to teach itself how to play chess. In the process, it has embodied AI at its best and provided a unique perspective of how its power can be harnessed for good.

According to AlphaZero’s creator, Demis Hassabis, the machine’s capabilities can be tapped to solve real-world issues such as protein folding, a process that plays a role in the development of diseases including cystic fibrosis and Alzheimer’s. Mr Hassabis’s expectations for the machine go beyond medicine as he foresees its ability to adapt to new situations. The machine has already displayed this trait, having learned how to master chess by playing millions of games against itself in a process known as reinforcement learning.

The Inside Story

The Kasparov-Deep Blue match is one that’s been discussed by chess enthusiasts and commentators for many years. Through the book, Kasparov provides an inside look at the game, weaving his personal account and knowledge of the game’s history with a ‘big picture’ perspective of what it’s like to go up against powerful opposition that’s determined to win. Thibaut de Roux, the former Global Head of Markets for HSBC Bank Plc, is among players worldwide who appreciate the journey chess has taken through the decades.

Kasparov’s take on his battle against machine serves to display a much broader struggle that humanity is faced with: the coming of age of smart devices and artificial intelligence. Chess fans reading his book will enjoy his discussion on how chess, smart machines and computing have been interlinked for decades. And while there’s a panicky narrative regarding AI, he notes that this fear is unwarranted. According to Kasparov, the future of the human-machine relationship is one where both work together for mutual benefit.

The mention of machine learning and AI typically brings up the issue of whether machines will ultimately replace human roles in various capacities. Understandably, concerns about job losses will abound whenever automation is a factor. In his book, Kasparov posits that the growth of intelligent machines is a nod to humanity’s progress in civilisation. He reckons that in times of disruption, seeing the big picture is not always easy. However, he implores readers to acknowledge the role machines will play in helping people explore new frontiers and accomplish tasks previously unimagined.

Mr Hassabis supports this school of thought, and separately, worries about what the world would look like without better AI. In his own way, he feels AI could be a game-changer in finding cures for chronic diseases and helping to tackle climate change.