"A new definition of teaching" - An Interview with Garry Kasparov

von Julian Caligiuri

Ever since losing to Deep Blue in 1997, Garry Kasparov considers himself to be the first knowledge worker suffering a defeat against a computer. Today the chess legend and AI expert travels around the globe to share his story and to promote collaboration between humans and machines. In our FUTUREwork interview, Kasparov debunks AI myths and calls for a new approach to education.

You are a former chess world champion, why do you devote yourself to the future of work?

I have a lot of experience with computers. I was the first knowledge worker to suffer a very painful defeat against a computer. My story helps people to understand the phenomenon we are dealing with now, because the future of work depends on our ability to cooperate with machines. So far, this cooperation is dominated by our fears. But most of these fears are totally unfounded and it’s also a misunderstanding of the nature of work. I think it’s important to spread optimism, and I would say also realism, to help people entering the future without fears and some kind of a paranoia.

In which areas do machines outperform humans?

Many tasks that we are performing today could be qualified as a closed system. If a system can be qualified as closed, then machines will always do a better job. You could say that machines will do a better job in every field that humans know how to perform. If we know how to do a task, machines can do it better. But the moment you move from “closed systems” to “open-ended systems”, where it’s still to be defined how to do the job, then machines will get lost. And here it’s very important for humans to give directions. We should not interfere within the areas where machines have superior knowledge.

What should we teach our children to be prepared for the future?

I think we have to start working on a definition of “teaching” because our current definition is focused too much on telling children how to add numbers, how to multiply, how to divide or what we should tell them about geometrics, history and geography. If they need to know the capital of the Czech Republic, they just need to swipe their fingers and they get it on the screen. But teaching is not about teaching them knowledge. It’s about teaching them how to use knowledge. It’s about application of knowledge. That’s why I say the emphasis moves from what to how. And I think many teachers right now are very old-fashioned. They continue teaching as if we were still living in the 19th or 20th century.

We should recognize the fact that the difference between adults and kids is not about the information that we acquire. Today any 10-year-old prodigy knows more about chess than Bobby Fisher – just because he or she can look online on the chess data base and collect the data. What is very important for us is to give direction and to help kids finding what they are up to. The most important thing is to find out whether somebody is good at math or debates or literature or philosophy or science, making sure that they can reveal their talents. I believe talent is everywhere, but it’s all about opportunities. The education system should help kids to reveal their talents and not to waste time doing things that they are not up to.


Meeting Garry Kasparov at the FUTUREwork 2019

You famously said that the future of work is human. But what would you tell a 55-year-old shop assistant who is afraid of losing her job to automation?

Look, I’m 56, and I’m the first knowledge worker who suffered a defeat. If we look at the future of humanity most jobs do not disappear, they evolve. Some jobs disappear and new jobs appear. History tells us that technology always helped humanity to do better as a group. I understand that this is little consolation for the person that you mentioned who could be losing her job tomorrow. You can cry over it, but it’s like crying over spilled milk. If your job is doomed, you better start thinking about the future. The technology now is getting simpler to operate. It offers opportunity, even for older people – like my generation – experienced people, to apply their knowledge and their wisdom. What these machines are missing is human wisdom. More and more machines will require humans’ ability to guide.

What do you think are Europe’s strengths and weaknesses in the current digital transformation of the economy and work?

I speak on average three times a month, mostly on AI topics, in America, in Europe and around the world. I have to say that Europe is generally lagging behind in AI development – maybe except for the UK. It’s not because Europe lacks the resources or talent or technology, I think it’s a social issue. The Europeans always start with a safety net, so on how to protect something. Innovations are risky. They can destroy some jobs and they can create some sort of chaos. But Europe is psychologically against disruption, which makes it more difficult to develop AI. It’s all about being incremental, but that doesn’t help you.

AI just needs a radical departure from traditional concepts. As chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and Avast Security Ambassador, I understand how we should protect privacy – it’s very important. But while the GDPR protects individuals against corporate abuse, at the same time, it doesn’t address the fact that for Chinese companies it’s not an obstacle. Many of the regulations are limiting the ability of corporations to compete against China. I’m not calling for the end of regulation, but we should change the emphasis. Being overzealous with regulations and protections is just counterproductive for the development of AI. Western Europe is probably now the slowest area of AI development in the world. I emphasize western Europe because in eastern Europe there are many corporations opening their offices now. You can see the booming AI development in the Czech Republic, in Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Croatia and Serbia. The mentality is just different there. People are looking for results and are not overconcerned about protection.


Questions by Julian Caligiuri

Watch Garry Kasparov at the FUTUREwork Convention & Festival 2019.


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