Where Artificial Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

by Garry Kasparov

Kasparov is a chess grandmaster and former world champion. From 1986 to his retirement in 2005, Kasparov was ranked №1 for 225 of 228 months. In 1997 he became the first world champion to lose a match to a computer , when he lost to the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in a highly publicised match. Following chess, Kasparov has become a renowned mind in the world of strategy, innovation and human performance and is a senior visiting fellow at the Oxford Martin School with a focus on interdisciplinary research and human-machine decision making.

Kasparov describes how innovation/technology has resulted in entire professions disappearing with little time to mourn them.

The elevator operator’s union was seventeen thousand strong in 1920, although its ability to paralyse cities with strikes like the one its member staged in New York in September 1945 surely cost them more than a few mourners when automatic push-button elevators began to replace them in the 1950s. According to the Associated Press, “Thousand struggled up stairways that seemed endless, including the Empire State Building, tallest structure in the world. Good riddance, you might imagine. But the worries about operator less elevators were quite similar to the concerns we hear today about driverless cars. In fact, I learned something surprising when I was invited to speak to the Otis Elevator Company in Connecticut in 2006. The technology for automatic elevators had existed since 1900, but people were to uncomfortable to ride in one without an operator. It took the 1945 strike and a huge PR push to change people’s minds, a process that is already repeating with driverless cars.

When Der Spiegel asked me what I thought separated me, the world champion, from other Strong Chess players, I answered, “The willingness to take on new challenges”, the same answer I would give today. The willingness to keep trying new things — different methods, uncomfortable tasks — when you are already an expert at something is what separates good from great.

Kasparov describes how the human mind is not like a computer and cannot progress in an orderly fashion down a list of candidate chess moves in order to rank them in order of how optimal a move is. He describes how the human brains more dis-ordered thinking can be a strength as it can allow humans to see unorthodox and paradoxical moves.

He tells the story of the eighth world chess champion Mikhail Tal when he was contemplating a knight sacrifice in a game against another soviet grandmaster.

Mikhail Tal writes in his book how “my head became filled with a completely chaotic pile of all sorts of moves, and the famous ‘tree of variations,’ from which the trainers recommended that you cut off the small branches, in this case spread with unbelievable rapidity. And then suddenly, for some reason, I remembered the classic couplet by Korney Chukovsky: ‘Oh what a difficult job it was to drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus’. I don’t know from what associations the hippopotamus got onto the chess board, but although the spectators were convinced that I was continuing to study the position, I was trying at this time to work out: Just how would you drag a hippopotamus out of the marsh?…After a lengthy consideration, I admitted defeat as an engineer, and thought spitefully, “Well, let is drown!”. And suddenly the hippopotamus disappeared. Went off from the chess board just as he had come on.And straight away the position did not appear to be so complicated… And the following day, it was with pleasure that I read in the paper how Mikhail Tal, after carefully thinking over the position for 40 minutes, made an accurately calculated piece sacrifice.

Kasparov argues that we are romanticising the loss of jobs to technology with the transfer of human labor to technology being inseparable from centuries of rising living standards and improvements in human rights.

What a luxury to sit in a climate-controlled room with access o the sum of human knowledge on a device on your pocket and lament how we don’t work with our hands anymore! There are still plenty of place in the world where people work with their hands all day, and also live without clean water and modern medicine.

Kasparov goes on to say that there is a long history of politicians and CEOS sacrificing the long term and greater good in order to satisfy a small constituency at the moment. Educating and retraining a workforce to adapt to change is far more effective than trying to preserve that workforce in some sort of Luddite bubble.

“In my lectures on the human-machine relationship, I’m fond of citing Pablo Picasso, who said in an interview, ‘Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.’ An answer means an end, a full stop and to Picasso there was never an end, only new questions to explore.

Lastly on talent, don’t tell me that hard work can be more important than talent. This is a handy platitude for motivating our kids to study or practise piano, but as I wrote ten years ago in How Life Imitated Chess, hard work is talent. The ability to push yourself, to keep working, practicing, studying more than others is itself a talent. If anyone could do it, everyone would. As with any talent, it must be cultivated to blossom. It can be convenient to frame work ethic as a moral matter, and certainly there is the usual intertwining of nature and nurture involved. And I would hate to provide anyone with a genetic excuse for taking it easy. But to me it has always sounded a little absurd to say that “player X has more talent but player Y wins because she works harder.” Reaching peak human performance requires maximising every aspect of our abilities whenever we can, including preparation and training, not only while at the chessboard or in the boardroom.

In the history of artificial intelligence, an AI winter is a period of reduced funding and interest in artificial intelligence research. The term was coined by analogy to the idea of a nuclear winter. The field has experienced several hype cycles, followed by disappointment and criticism, followed by funding cuts, followed by renewed interest years or decades later. The AI winter was a result of such hype, due to over-inflated promises by developers, unnaturally high expectations from end-users, and extensive promotion in the media — Wikipedia

Kasparov describes how in 2001 Bill Gates reminisced about the great expectations that were in the air about artificial intelligence in the 1970s [prior to the AI winter]. ‘Microsoft was founded about twenty-five years ago, and I can remember at the time thinking, ‘Well, if I go out and do this really commercial stuff, I’m going to miss these big advances n AI that will be coming very soon.’