Don’t fear intelligent machines, work with them

In 1985, aged 22, Garry Kasparov became the World Chess Champion after beating Anatoly Karpov. Earlier that year, he played what is called simultaneous exhibition against 32 of the world’s best chess-playing machines in Hamburg, Germany. He won all the games, beating 32 computers at the same time.

In 1997, he was still the world champion when chess computers finally came of age. He lost a memorable match against Deep Blue, the IBM super computer. Not that Deep Blue did it, but its human creators — Anantharaman, Campbell, Hoane, Hsu. As always, Kasparov says, machine’s triumph is a human triumph, something we tend to forget when humans are surpassed by our own creations.

Deep Blue was victorious, but was it intelligent? No, it wasn’t, at least not in the way Alan Turing and other founders of computer science had hoped. It turned out that chess could be crunched by brute force, once hardware got fast enough and algorithms got smart enough. Although by the definition of the output, grandmaster-level chess, Deep Blue was intelligent. But even at the incredible speed, 200 million positions per second, Deep Blue’s method provided little of the dreamed-of insight into the mysteries of human intelligence.

Soon, machines will be taxi drivers and doctors and professors, but will they be “intelligent?”. Probably not in the sense we think of it. What really matters is how we humans feel about living and working with these machines.

The main point Kasparov makes in his speech is that we must face our fears if we want to get the most out of our technology, and we must conquer those fears if we want to get the best out of our humanity.

A weak human player plus a machine plus a better process is superior to a very powerful machine alone, but more remarkably, is superior to a strong human player plus machine and an inferior process.

Human plus machine isn’t the future, it’s the present. Intelligent machines are moving in every sector, seemingly every day. But unlike in the past, when machines replaced farm animals, manual labour, now they are coming after people with college degrees and political influence. As someone who fought machines and lost, Kasparov states that eventually, every profession will have to feel these pressures or else it will mean humanity has ceased to make progress.

We don’t get to choose when and where technological progress stops. We cannot slow down. In fact, we have to speed up. Our technology excels at removing difficulties and uncertainties from our lives, and so we must seek out ever more difficult, ever more uncertain challenges.

Machines have calculations. We have understanding. Machines have instructions. We have purpose. Machines have objectivity. We have passion. We have something every machine will always lack: it is what Maximo Ibarra, CEO of Wind Tre, calls human touch.

We should not worry about what our machines can do today. Instead, we should worry about what they still cannot do today, because we will need the help of the new, intelligent machines to turn our grandest dreams into reality. And if we fail, it’s not because our machines are too intelligent, or not intelligent enough. If we fail, it’s because we grew complacent and limited our ambitions. Our humanity is not defined by any skill, like swinging a hammer or even playing chess.

There’s one thing only a human can do. That’s dream. So let us dream big.

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