On 11th May 1997, Garry Kasparov, one of the finest chess players who ever lived, lost the sixth and final game of a match against Deep Blue, a chess-playing computer developed by IBM. Deep Blue was said to be capable of calculating as many as 200 billion positions in the three minutes allotted for each move. 24 years on, Deep Blue is a dinosaur in the museum of artificial intelligence.
The 2021 World Chess Championship concluded on 10th December this year. The decisive point had arrived some days earlier when Norway’s Magnus Carlsen won Game 6, described by many commentators as the greatest ever played. When Carlsen’s Russian opponent, Ian Nepomniachtchi, resigned after midnight, following what was the longest game in world championship history, the rapt audience erupted in applause. This, as the Guardian pointed out the following day, is a sport ‘dogged by existential questions’ about its very relevance in an age of supercomputers.
For the inescapable truth is that a modern computer will never make the tiny errors that contributed to Nepomniachtchi’s defeat. Chess is just one example of an activity set up for technical perfection – an ideal candidate for redundancy in the AI age. Why then is chess more popular than ever? Why is Magnus Carlsen an international celebrity, and ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ a global sensation watched by audiences who barely know the difference between a bishop and a pawn?
The answer may lie in what the same Guardian report on Game 6 of this epic match:
It was a contest of extreme cognitive, emotional and physical intensity.
In other words, it was a human drama that called on uniquely human qualities.
Deep Blue and its successors have made a great contribution to chess. The game can now be taught and learned more quickly and to greater effect. At grandmaster level, chess is now played to a higher standard than ever before. But in the end, the human dimension, in all its diverse richness, is more compelling and more enduring than the technical perfection afforded by the machine.
The significance of these uniquely human qualities in other spheres of machine-learning, data science and artificial intelligence generally is the subject of the winter 2021 edition of Cois Coiribe.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a term coined by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF). It is characterised by a blurring of the boundaries between the biological, the physical and the digital realms. The focus on the economic and technological aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has arguably left out a critically important consideration: the human dimension. As increasing numbers of high skill functions fall within the competence of machines, what are the consequences for us? If huge swathes of complex professional tasks are performed with vastly greater efficiency by machines than by people, what will we – the displaced – do with our lives? And what sort of lives will we lead when much of our decision making is directed by AI?
The pessimistic view is that human autonomy will decline as machine-based intelligence drives our choices – a decline that will be accompanied by reduced cognitive, social and survival skills. The optimistic view is that the era of AI will be intelligently regulated (by humans) and will enable the real work of our species to begin in earnest. The skills required in the era of artificial intelligence – which might be collectively described as creativity driven by increased cognitive flexibility – are precisely those required for curing diseases, healing the environment, ending wars, and enabling the full potential of every human being.
NUI Galway, in its Strategy 2020-2025, committed itself to serving the public good. Bringing a focus to the critical issues of our time is a part of that mission. This edition of Cois Coiribe reflects the depth of thought within our university community about the economic, social, ethical and political implications of the impending age of artificial intelligence and robotics.
The questions are myriad. What, for example, is the history of AI – how do we look back to shape a future? What are the moral and ethical concerns that we need to address? What research evidence do we already have about the impact of AI on human wellbeing in general and human creativity in particular? What legal and regulatory frameworks are needed to protect human wellbeing and autonomy in the future? How will core training in medicine, business and engineering, for example, change in the coming decades as a result of AI? What are the implications for achieving widespread data literacy? And crucially for us at NUI Galway, what can higher education do to mitigate the negative effects and take advantage of the opportunities presented by AI?