The AI takeover is happening ‘too slow’, says chess grandmaster

12 Jun 2019 By Francis Churchill

Garry Kasparov opens CIPD Festival of Work by telling audience humans working with software will always be stronger than a machine alone

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not transforming the world of work as quickly as many people believe, delegates at the inaugural CIPD Festival of Work have been told.

Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster who became the first world champion to lose to a computer when he was beaten by IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997, used his opening keynote to suggest it was mostly ‘zombie jobs’ which were set to be replaced by technology.

Speaking at the opening of the event in London today, Kasparov said: “The danger is not AI taking over too fast. On the contrary, I think it’s too slow. Because these jobs are already doomed, and what we need is for new jobs to be created to have a financial cushion to help those left behind and start restructuring our industries.”

Citing a 2016 McKinsey report on the US labour market, Kasparov said just 4 per cent of jobs needed ‘medium human creativity’. 

“What does it tell us? That 96 per cent of jobs are, I call them zombie jobs. They’re already dead, they just don’t know,” he said.

“For decades, we have been training people to act like machines – so it’s not that machines are getting more human, it’s that we have so many jobs that just require machine-like qualities. And of course these jobs will go away.”

Kasparov said his experience of the world of chess after his defeat by Deep Blue – he jokingly described himself as “the first knowledge worker to have his job threatened by a machine” – was that the most successful players were partnerships between humans and computers.

A human with a machine would always beat the strongest machine, he said. But he also suggested that the most important part of the partnership was not the individual strength of either party, but the interface between the two.

“We saw time and again that a weaker player with a slower machine could dominate a stronger player with a faster machine if he or she had better interface with the computer. It’s about process,” he said.

“We all have to recognise that the role of humans in this relationship will be to compensate for machines’ inefficiencies. It will be to understand what this machine means for this specific task and how we can bring our unique human qualities into the game.”

Kasparov added that for a long time, chess was seen as a bastion of human intelligence, and that from the early years of modern computing the inevitable defeat of a human grandmaster was expected to herald the dawn of machine intelligence. But, he said, this had not turned out to be the case.

“[This was] wrong because it’s not about out-thinking us, it’s about outperforming us by doing what machines do best – using brute force,” he said. “While Deep Blue won, it was not intelligent at all. It didn’t have to be intelligent – it could make 200 million positions per second and that was more than enough to make fewer mistakes.”

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, used his opening address to suggest the people profession should be at the centre of addressing the nature of the future of work. “Our responsibility is to look after people at work,” he said.

“What is going on around us is huge amounts of political, social, economic and technological change all coming together in ways that I’ve certainly not experienced before. And the debate about the future of work… is such a central conversation about so many aspects of our lives,” Cheese added.

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