‘We are right to be afraid of artificial intelligence.’
That’s the view of Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion turned Russian political dissident, who says it’s not the technology itself we should fear, but the people who could abuse it.
‘The danger isn’t of some Skynet-style monster,’ Kasparov says. ‘It’s that the technology will be misused by dictators and other thugs. Look how Vladimir Putin is already using social media to interfere with the democratic process. AI could be even more disruptive.’
Kasparov, 54, was ranked world chess number one for nearly 20 years, becoming the youngest-ever world champion aged 22.
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His matches against IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in 1996 and 1997 – which he ultimately lost – became an iconic battle between man and machine.
He has now written a book on AI, ‘Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins’.
‘We need to look at AI without this religious fear we currently have,’ Kasparov says. ‘We need to look at it in terms of our real lives, instead of portraying it in terms of these dystopian horrors. We need to stop fearing the future and embrace it. It’s happening anyway.’
Technology visionaries such as Elon Musk have warned that artificial intelligence could pose an existential threat to the human race, with the Tesla CEO saying, ‘If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be.’
Perhaps tellingly, President Putin himself said, ‘Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.’
Kasparov says that the ‘lame’ response to Russian interference in elections shows the need for more awareness of the power of technology to affect the world.
He says, ‘Barack Obama had this information, he knew that the Russians were interfering, but it was politically too costly. Mark Zuckerberg said after the election that Facebook had nothing to do with it. Now he realises that this technology can be used for destructive purposes.’
Kasparov’s own experience at the hands of Deep Blue taught him that the advancement of artificial intelligence in any field is ‘only a matter of time.’
He says, ‘We thought classical chess would be an ultimate test for human-like intelligence. But what I did not realise 20 years ago is that humans are poised to make mistakes. Machines will always prevail.
‘For me, it happened sooner than I thought. The watershed for me was Game One in 1996, which Deep Blue won. Machines do not solve the game, but solving and winning are two different things.’
Kasparov rebounded, winning the match, but he says, ‘The steady hand of a machine always prevails against human imperfection. Today, the Freechess app on your smartphone is stronger than Deep Blue.’
Kasparov now works with internet security company Avast, and is presenting a series of lectures on the impact of AI. He says that approaches which attempt to slow the advance of AI – such as Bill Gates’s proposed ‘robot tax’, are doomed.
Kasparov says, ‘Slowing down AI is counterproductive. It can’t be solved by government interference. If you shut down the financial support for it, people will buy it elsewhere. If you don’t embrace it, it will still happen, and it will be destroying jobs, without creating new ones.’
Kasparov says that overall, he is optimistic, pointing out that throughout human history,, technology has always taken over tasks done by human beings, and the effects have been benign.
He says, ‘From the very dawn of human science, machines have helped us with some of our tasks. The big panic now is that machines are going after people with college degrees. But this is normal. It will destroy some industries, but new industries will be created.
‘Technology has meant that we live longer, we have better medicine, better detection of terminal illnesses. If not for technology, many of the people complaining about AI would not be around in the first place.’