Living on the Other Side of the Chessboard


Earlier this year I was invited to a series of interesting speeches and events in San Jose, more prominently known to be the core of Silicon Valley. With a small group of innovators and journalists we went to the Hotel De Anza’s conference space, in Downtown, to meet with Barak Berkowitz and experience his presentation titled “Living on the other side of the chessboard”.

Barak Berkowitz is the director of operations and strategy at the MIT Media Lab, however has raised the disclaimer that the presentation is his personal work and not affiliated to present or past organizations. He further explained that the contents were strongly inspired by the work of many other bright individuals and not all talked about were ideas of him alone.

Barak is a genuinely nice guy and I really enjoyed the first hand insight. Today I want to tell you a little bit about what we heard and what the consensus of the discussion was, about the future of mankind in cooperation or competition with artificial intelligences.

How the inventor of Chess was rewarded

Chess is one of the world’s most popular games and one of the oldest. The inventor of chess was celebrated by many people and even by country rulers. The ruler of the place where the chess inventor came from invited him over to the palace to personally thank him for such a great invention. He was told he can make a wish on how he would like to be awarded.

The inventor thought for a moment and then asked for a seemingly humble reward. He looked at the ruler’s chess board and said, “I only wish for this. Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.”

Rice Grain Chessboard Invention Chess Woman Holding Chop Sticks Story History

The ruler was surprised about such a small reward asked for by the inventor and granted it. He didn’t comprehend the impact on this exponential growth and where doubling up the amount of rice 64 times would lead him to pay. After some time, the ruler’s treasurer approached him with the hard news. There was no way to compensate the inventor fully as requested, because the sum of rice needed would be a huge mountain made of rice and it would take centuries to grow.

Moore’s law

Transistor_Count_and_Moores_Law_-_2011-minGordon Moore is a co-founder of Intel and in 1965 he stated, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention and that this trend will continue in foreseeable future. Many decades later we know this to be true. Maybe there is some variance due to a highly dynamic field of research and development, but it had been achieved thus far.

An_illustration_of_Ray_Kurzweil_second_half_of_the_chessboard_principle-minIf you are comparing the story of the invention of Chess and Moore’s law with each other you will find some similarities. If you were to replace the rice grains on the chessboard with achievements in computer sciences and technology manufacturing, you are able to visualize this data in an interesting way. We find out that we are not through with technological advance, we are right in the middle of it and we are barely making it through the half of the chessboard.

Living on the other side of the chessboard

Now looking at this computer science themed chessboard we find ourselves somewhat in the middle of it all. How will it be to live on the second side of the chessboard? With the technological advantages we are seeing today and in near future, will we face an improved life quality? Usually innovation is trying to solve a problem. If there is no problem, there won’t be innovation, or will there be? Humans have a lot of problems. Our world has a lot of problems. Humans are a part of our world’s problems.

Many people are afraid of a negative outcome of a singularity event though. Robots killing humans, et cetera, you all watched those movies. Right now we had cases of robots being responsible for the death of humans and even though there is hardly to be a malevolent intent, yet it did happen and the person is gone.

Futurism Artificial Entities Robots Android Gynoid Humans Cooperation Competition Red Hair Doll Fixing Hair Mirror

We are seeing more and more of machine autonomy with the intend of servicing humans. Like self-driving cars could make our lives a lot more comfortable and certainly safer, in comparison to human drivers, some questions in code, theory and ethics remain unanswered. For instance, I wrote a whole article on “When Self-Driving Cars Decide Who Lives and Who Dies“.

We know of the AI called Watson who is already able to beat the best humans at Jeopardy but what do we do if we face people being replaced by artificial entities? These are relevant questions and like with every idea and invention, may it be digital or not, the risks there are always contain of both danger and opportunity. Innovation is not evil, science is not evil, technology is not evil and the future is not evil.

Let’s stay curious but also let’s stay cautious on what we do. Maybe sometimes ask not only “could we do it?” but also sometimes go for the second thought of “should we do it?”. I am feeling very positive about near, mid and far future, but mankind must never stop the critical thinking, questioning and doubting.

Further reading

The Second Machine Age Work Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant TechnologiesXRace Against the Machine How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation Driving Productivity and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy

YouTube: Moore’s Law and the Second Half of the Chessboard

YouTube: Andrew McAfee: What will future jobs look like? (TED)

YouTube: Erik Brynjolfsson: The key to growth? Race with the machines (TED)

Photo credit: Wikimedia CommonsNeil Palmer (CIAT)Tony BrooksSaiko Weiss
Source: Barak Berkowitz / Michael Hartley / Investopedia / Markus Mattern (LearnSuits) / The Guardian / Wikipedia /

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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