Humans are more dangerous than AI, says chess legend Kasparov

Chess Grandmaster and Avast Security Ambassador Garry Kasparov play chess simultaneously at the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 3. (Photo: AFP)

Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov was beaten by a supercomputer – but when it comes to artificial intelligence, he’s a firm believer that humans are the real threat.

Kasparov has remained fascinated with technology since his famous matches against IBM’s Deep Blue computer in the 1990s.

When he wasn’t busy taking on 10 simultaneous chess opponents at the Web Summit in Lisbon earlier this month – easily beating them all in 45 minutes – he spoke about the growing role of AI in society.

“We live in a world where machines are playing increasingly important roles. Whether you like it or not, it’s happening,” he said.

“There is simply no evidence that machines threaten us. The real danger does not come from killer robots but from people – because people always have a monopoly on evil.”

The real threat, according to the Kremlin critic, comes “from dictatorial, totalitarian countries and terrorists who will use this technology to harm us.”

While Terminator-style assassin robots remain science fiction, human rights groups are already pushing for international laws to restrict the use of so-called “killer robots”, predicting that the AI will transform warfare for years to come.

Meanwhile, at the Web Summit, tech gurus spent the week discussing more positive potential applications of AI, from smart chatbots that improve our mental health to sorting plastic waste.

Kasparov could be described as a techno-optimist, but he doesn’t entirely dismiss the fears of AI opponents who fear robots will replace tasks once done by humans, from factory workers to truck drivers.

“It will be painful, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t want to sound insensitive – people are going to lose their jobs. But look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Humanity always wins with more technology brought in.”

He pointed to the speed at which vaccines were developed in response to Covid-19, a dazzling effort compared to previous disease control work, as something that gave him hope about the power of the innovation.

But he called for better regulation around the world to help limit the negative impact of social media and other evolving technologies.

“What I want is a good public debate that leads to recommendations to the government,” he said.

“Because it’s the governments that could legislate to force companies to start doing things that will minimize the damage.”

He spoke amid growing international calls for the immense power of tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon to be brought under control.

Facebook in particular has come under intense criticism over leaked documents showing that company executives were aware of their sites’ potential to harm people’s safety on many fronts.

Kasparov suggested authorities have struggled to regulate fast enough to keep up with the social media revolution in part “because governments view big tech as a source of revenue.”

Regardless of how we end up regulating social media, he predicted that no amount of legislation can totally eliminate the harm they cause, from hate speech to making teens feel bad about themselves.

“Anyone who tells you we can eliminate it, it’s absolutely impossible,” he said. “Because social platforms are the kind of business where conflict is embedded.”

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