“What I see now,” he says gesturing at the Wall Street Journal and its picture of the vast crowd of Kiev protesters, “is that demographic change. You should look at the faces of these students, of people of my town. [He was born in Baku.] Most of them are young. They are talking about geopolitical choice for the country. And they are ready to fight for that. And that’s very different. That’s what I’ve been saying for several years—that change will come when the new generation under 40, but more likely under 30, will take to the streets.
“So you’re optimistic?”
“I’m optimistic because I can see that every attempt to reform the old Soviet empire and the satellite states with people my age fails. I was probably one of the freest minds in the Soviet Union—I could travel since I was 13 abroad and I read books—but for me certain things were difficult to overcome because it’s part of your education.”
He means loyalty to the dream of greater Russia.
“But new generations should overcome it. And what we will see in Ukraine, it’s a beginning of the shift.”
Moving from the big board to the small one, I ask Kasparov why in addition to his human rights activism he is devoting his time and energy to a global campaign to wrest the presidency of the International Chess Federation from its current Russian head.
He handed me a slick professionally designed brochure that was bannered: “Team Kasparov, Global Leadership, 2014 FIDE Campaign.” (FIDE is the French acronym for the International Chess Federation.)
“I always wanted to see the world of chess move to a new level, to become immensely successful,” he says. “I felt that the opportunities in 1972 with Bobby Fischer have been missed, some opportunities have been missed in the ’80s. So I was looking for solutions outside the federation. And they all failed. Eventually I recognized that you have to do things from within. Because opportunities are still there.”
As are opportunities for mischief and intrigue. Late in January, charges and counter charges flew between the opposing camps of Kasparov and the incumbent FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov with each side charging the other with offering improper subsidies to allies, with Kasparov speaking of “dirty tricks,” “stolen” e-mails and denying any untoward conduct. Kasparov told me there was no impropriety. The London Sunday Times story, “Clash of kings as bid to sex up chess gets dirty,” compared it to “the plot of an espionage novel.” The story adds the piquant detail that Kasparov’s opponent “believes chess was invented by extraterrestrials.”
Unfazed, Kasparov is already thinking several moves ahead: beyond just reforming the insular, scandal-plagued world of 64 squares to make chess a vehicle for worldwide intelligence enhancement. “Everybody talks about the shortcomings of education. And I have plenty of experience traveling around the world and talking to education authorities, from the very top to the very bottom of the social ladder.
“We have plenty of evidence that at early age chess helps kids to learn about legal frameworks, to understand logic and patterns, to see the big picture, to structure minds. We need to start reforming education, and chess is a very useful tool.”
Kasparov has thought a lot about chess and intelligence. He was, after all, the man who beat the first sophisticated chess computer, IBM’s Deep Blue, and then, in what many regard as a landmark in the relationship between human and artificial intelligence, lost to a next-generation Deep Blue in a rematch watched worldwide in 1997.
Kasparov has no doubt that advanced chess computers will always be able to beat the most brilliant human beings from now on. “In a game of 50 moves, you can make 45 good moves, four great moves and one inaccuracy, it’s almost enough to win,” Kasparov told me. But if you make one less than optimal move the computer will destroy you, he says. And the computer never makes a less than optimal move. They have changed the face of tournament chess, he says. Now adjournments have been banned from most tournaments to prevent players from consulting computers.
“There was a fascinating thing I saw somewhere,” I say, “about your meeting at Google, where you tried to convince them that there should be a human element added to the computational...?”
“I don’t have to convince anybody, I think everybody in the Valley or in this world recognizes that the future is very much a combination of human intuition and advanced computation. I think the question is not whether it’s good or bad idea,” he says, but how you actually accomplish the integration.
“So you think that no matter how good computer computational chess gets, it will always be lacking something?”
“Yeah, but we’re talking about things beyond chess. We’re talking about decision-making on a global level or even on a universal level. Even a small infusion of human intuition and the ability to evaluate facts could dramatically enhance the power of machine.”
“I got the impression that Google was not getting it.”
“I’m not sure, it was quite a short presentation and I actually had a few other lectures in the Valley....” He sounds a little disappointed.
“Do you feel like you’ve learned something from your study of computational chess? Have you changed your own play?”