Twenty-five years ago, the world reacted in shock along with its greatest chess player Gary Kasparov when the computer IBM Deep Blue beat him at his own game.
The Russian chess grandmaster and former World Chess champion admits that at the time he was a sore loser and upset about the loss. He was critical about the way IBM organized the match, which Deep Blue won in three games and drew in one. He also felt humans were “doomed” when it came to playing games against machines.
A lot has changed since then.
After Deep Blue’s victory in 1997, IBM started looking for another challenge and developed Watson, named after company founder Thomas J. Watson. That’s the group I worked with back in the days of the original team and then building out the Watson ecosystem.
Watson was publicly unveiled in 2011 when it went up against the two greatest champions on the U.S. game show Jeopardy, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The machine won $77,147 while Rutter and Jennings finished well back, winning $21,600 and $24,000 respectively.
Like the great chess player he is, seeing the development of machines several moves ahead, Kasparov knew that when it came to humans versus machines, the game was lost.
“Deep Blue was relatively weak by modern standards. Today, machines are absolutely monstrous,” he told Business Insider in 2017.
They’ve become even more monstrous in the last five years. Indeed, a chess app played on a smartphone today would throttle Deep Blue.
“I could see the trend. I could see that it’s, you know, a one-way street. That’s why I was preaching for collaboration with the machines, recognizing that in the games’ environment, humans were doomed.”
His point about collaboration is key. So too was Kasparov’s realization that we need not fear the machine and I’ve pointed out many times all the good that AI systems can do for humanity.
The real threat is not with machines themselves, as Kasparov said, it’s with humans using AI or other technologies to harm other humans. “AI is like a mirror, it amplifies both good and bad,” he told Wired magazine in 2020. “We have to actually look and just understand how we can fix it, not say, ‘Oh, we can create AI that will be better than us.’”
He has distinguished between type A “brute-force-type machines” which resemble the way humans make decisions and type B “machines, human-like machines.” Kasparov told Business Insider that “the founding fathers of computer science” like Alan Turing and Norbert Weiner “all believed that real success, the real breakthrough” is achieved by type B machines.
Kasparov developed the concept of “advanced chess” after his defeat to Deep Blue: a human and a computer playing against a human and a computer. Speaking at the Automation Anywhere conference in London, England in 2019, he explained that computers provide answers but it’s up to humans to set the questions.
And when it comes to humans, there is no match to our creativity, ingenuity — and humor. The satirical humor website The Onion marked the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Kasparov versus Deep Blue by publishing an article about him winning a chess match against Roomba.
Kasparov reportedly “cackled” after his fifth straight victory over the cleaning robot, said the article.
“According to sources,” The Onion reported, “Kasparov became dejected when the Roomba’s battery died midway through the next game, but his spirits recovered following his decision to challenge the KitchenAid mixer to a long-awaited rematch.”