If you have 52 minutes, you may want to watch this video full of intelligent enough debates between the renowned chess player Garry Kasparov (a chronic world ex-champion and a sort of a political activist in Russia) and the renowned venture capitalist Peter Thiel (the founder of PayPal, the first major Facebook investor, a libertarian, and the supporter of world-changing projects, especially by college dropouts):
Video posted via Kasparov's YouTube channel
The topics include Google and its vision for the world, the replacement of humans by machines, the bad consequences of any looming nuclear war, politics in Russia, simultaneous chess games (in which Kasparov hasn't lost since 2001; Thiel is a very good player as well, he was surely strong enough in Nice a few years ago to beat your humble correspondent pretty much "reliably" back in Nice – but my chess scalp is surely not a source of pride for anyone who actually plays the game regularly).
They should have co-authored a book, The Blueprint, but the project has apparently been canceled. Maybe it was just delayed and renamed to The World of Fake Values where they argue that despite the widespread opinions, the world is switching to a slow development of technologies (Kasparov's words around 4:00 sound like an anti-singularity theme...). But maybe the comments about that other books are also obsolete and the book under this title was cancelled, too.
I am interested in your reactions to their ideas. This blog entry was later updated and extended.
At the beginning, Kasparov praises Thiel's intelligence and the breadth of his interests. I must confirm that. He was listening and meaningfully commenting on my remarks about particle physics and e.g. the discoveries that the LHC was or wasn't going to make back in 2010. And that was just a minor interest relatively to biology and evolution (or the lack of it) that he knows a great deal about – partly because he used to study it somewhere, or something like that. He also followed the climate debate (Richard Lindzen was the main speaker about this topic).
Around 3:30, Thiel betrays that it's really a program for Germans and he was born in Germany – he speaks German for a while. (Update: At the end, I learned that it was aired on ZDF, the Second German Public TV Channel, in 2010.)
At 5:00 or so, Kasparov says he had visited Google some weeks ago. It was about Deep Blue and computerized chess. Kasparov thinks that brute force "solved" the problem of computers playing chess well. Well, it's not a fully solved game, I would add, but the computers got better than the humans.
The discussion switches to the question whether machines or machine-human combinations are better and why. Thiel says that the Google ideology says that the computers will replace humans in 20 years. Technology advocates don't like to speak about the failures of technology, Thiel adds. To question a technology has become the greatest heresy, he thinks.
The next topic around 9:00 is whether politicians are smarter people, what they want to spend the money on, and whether Obama is a socialist. In an elevator, near 9:30, we learn that Kasparov isn't optimistic about too many things. Perhaps about the ability to convince the people to look for new ideas. Robots (and ancient ones; and some robots with GPS and cameras) showed by a guy. Another robot chap says that robot got faster and they're asked about the dates when robots will do certain things.
At 12:40, a 2010 Oslo talk by Thiel is shown, saying that technology may be used both for freedom and against it. We shouldn't be utopian about technology. Instead, it's important for us to use it, use it as the first ones, and use it now. At 13:10, Kasparov laughs as he describes the Internet just as a by-product of some work at CERN. Kasparov argues that except for speeds, iPads etc. can't do anything that PCs couldn't do 25 years ago. ;-) It sounds a bit exaggerated to me but I surely agree that the science-fiction novels written half a century ago were more optimistic about the speed of the robotic progress than the present reality. 40 years after Nixon's great words, we still don't have a cure for cancer. We're 40 years closer to the solution, however. ;-) Thiel adds that no one believes that the cure will come in 5 years. (I am actually ambivalent.)
15:50 – some fancy cars I've been in, too. ;-) 16:40 – chess was a good benchmark to measure the computers' progress because it has wisdom. Well, I surely disagree with that proposition. Chess has always been clearly just a particular game that is being won by brute force and the progress in the algorithms etc. was pretty much guaranteed to be just a gradual evolution, not a result of revolutions. There are other, deeper tasks that do require qualitative breakthroughs to be mastered by machines. BTW we're told that over a million of games a day is played via the Internet. At 18:00, they visit a chess club. A minute later, Kasparov doesn't want to play Thiel – it sounds like he doesn't want to crush Thiel but I am not sure whether he realizes that Thiel wouldn't necessarily be hopeless. ;-) Finally, Thiel plays a speedy game against the chess club manager. Thiel (white) doesn't accept draw at some moment. However, it seems he loses at the end and Kasparov is telling him what he should have played differently. Maurice Ashley, a British chess grandmaster, appears.
In the car, 25:40, Thiel says that when he's facing stronger players, he feels that the doom is coming gradually. Kasparov is skeptical and suggests that it depends on the strength of the opponent ;-) (he clearly wants to say that if Thiel played against Kasparov, Kasparov would destroy him rapidly, after a single move that turns out bad). Kasparov mentions his insane record in the simultaneous exhibitions (20-30 opponents at the same moment): no loss since 2001. Kasparov modestly tells us that he just has the stamina to walk around, keep pressure, and the 20-30 enemies just collapse. ;-)
At 28:00, they enter the Empire State Building. It sounds like I have been to the top more often than Thiel. :-) Kasparov boasts he knows the date of the construction. Thiel says that the inability to build a new World Trade Center for 9 years is a bigger failure than 9/11; this suggests that the video is from 2010, at least this part of it. Kasparov talks about some craziness in Russian politics. Kasparov said that the opposition wasn't important, the internal fights under the surface are more important, and young people massively want to flee Russia. Anywhere. Older folks are upset. A general degradation of the country follows.
They visit a human rights activist (in the Human Rights Foundation). He says things are getting worse. That's why they exist etc. Kasparov says that the West doesn't want to interfere, another problem. Thiel mentions a correlation between human rights and the economics (I mostly agree – after all, the human rights are a luxury that the wealthier ones are more likely to afford) – and a country with some ten-to-fourty inflation. The host prepared about 10 different coffees for Kasparov, all kinds – a repayment of the same debt. They discuss the immense inefficiency of the U.N. and lame excuses why it's inefficient (12 languages: but Marriott etc. can do these things profitably, anyway). Thiel says that in 20 years, the iconic status of the U.N. evaporated. The host partly disagrees – some people worship the U.N. – but he says that the U.N. isn't helpful. What should we do, the host asks? Shout loud, Kasparov suggests. Both famous guys propose technological progress as a solution to make the good guys and nations more influential. I am not sure it's this straightforward.
The host says that the human rights fight has become bureaucratized and therefore unappealing for the young; it is mostly a business for old folks in suits who talk in the U.N. The foundation wants to change it. They want to bring in Thiel and his technology and Kasparov and his brain that defeated the IBM computer – and the host believes that he did. ;-) Thiel is frustrated mostly by places that are screwed for a very long time. The host says that we're "racists of low expectations" who think that Haiti won't achieve much which is why we're not holding them accountable. Nice but your humble correspondent of course adds that it's the rational attitude because the expectations aren't just pulled from the air. They are built on lots of hard data that probably won't go away and it would be foolish to think that they may be ignored and the countries may be suddenly totally different than they are. The host says that every country may switch from liberal democracy to dictatorship in a decade. Well, yes, but certain other key things – that also determine the potential to return to liberal democracy – won't really deteriorate this quickly. Kasparov says that democracy has become just a word that may cover terrible atrocities, too. It may but it is a valuable arrangement by itself, one that increases the nations' chances to be decent, too. The host gives the Russian skateboard to Kasparov and the Chinese (?) skateboard to Thiel. Kasparov asks why Thiel received the Chinese ones, the answer is incoherent, but Thiel doesn't get offended easily. ;-)
41:30 – skateboards loaded to the cars. How will it end, Thiel asks? Growth etc. is the only optimistic scenario. For Kasparov, Martians' landing is more likely. Huh? Various degrees of recession and depression are discussed along with the world war (I was never into these doomsday scenarios much). Another bad outcome is a move to the left: governments confiscate the wealth everywhere. If the money doesn't have any value, the system doesn't work. I think these are sort of weird conspiracy theories. Money had an important value even in the communist world. You just can't suppress such basic parts of the human nature and the life of societies.
44:20 – dinner. Peter: a moment for classical liberalism to return. (Klaus is perhaps returning to top Czech politics, as a savior.) Kasparov talks about Buffett who predicts America's fall (China is next). Thiel points out that Buffett is all about avoiding the technology completely. Even on Mars, people will eat candy bars. ;-) Regardless of China, Thiel feels that you can only do decent things in the U.S. Kasparov says that Obama et al. don't care about technologies. Obama is just the community organizer, not a leader. Thiel says that they're not focusing on important things. Kasparov says that they can't even identify them. Thiel idealistically says that technology is "doing more with less" (austerity is "less with less", printing is "more with more"). Food arrives. Worries about propagation of nuclear weapons. Thiel thinks that the risk is underestimated. Kasparov points out that nations value life differently. Dictatorships are powerful because of fossil fuels etc., if the dependence on them is reduced, things get better. Well, I think that he contradicts his previous comments. A reduced dependence on fossil fuels will make the fossil-fuel-producing countries poorer and therefore even more screwed. Thiel asks what makes Kasparov continue while being pessimistic about most day-to-day issues. Kasparov is a born optimist, we hear. There will be too many questions and a few people who will give answers.
End of dinner, good bye, it was fun.