Former world chess champion and human rights activist Kasparov (Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, 2015, etc.) offers an optimistic view of humankind’s relationship with machines.
“With every new encroachment of machines, the voices of panic and doubt are heard, and they are only getting louder today,” writes the author, who famously lost a chess match against IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in 1997. Since his retirement from professional chess, Kasparov has used his experience as a window on human-machine decision-making, in talks to business groups and in work as a visiting fellow at the Oxford Martin School. In this intelligent, absorbing book, he manages to both tell the story of his encounter with IBM’s machine (with the “speed and depth of brute force search” to exploit human mistakes) and celebrate the untold coming benefits of smart machines. His detailed inside account of Deep Blue reflects on his own poor play and the likelihood that IBM gave its machine unfair advantages. As he said at the time, “I do not blame IBM, I blame myself.” Kasparov also notes how chess-playing computers get stronger, change their openings, and pay no attention to “the competitive and psychological aspects of chess.” Observing that most of us will be as disconcerted by driverless cars as he was by chess-playing machines, he urges that we take advantage of the proliferation of computers as they assume many roles of lawyers, bankers, doctors, and other professionals. “It’s remarkable how quickly we go from being skeptics to taking a new technology for granted,” he writes. Overreliance on machines may be dangerous if you want to innovate rather than imitate, but listening to them allows you to overcome your emotional biases. Given honest data, machines can “make us into better decision makers.”
Thoughtful reading for anyone interested in human and machine cognition and a must for chess fans.