On May 11th, 1997, the world chess champion Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM's chess computer, Deep Blue. This event beckoned a monumental shift in the battle between natural and artificial intelligence. This was the first time a computer had defeated the reigning world chess champion under tournament conditions. Our days of beating computers at chess were now largely behind us. And something similar is just around the corner.
"Anything we can do, and we know how to do it, machines will do it better. If we can codify it, and pass it to computers, they will do it better."
Chess can be broken up into two major parts: tactics and strategy. Think of tactics like common patterns. These patterns can help you win material over your opponent, but the best ones allow you to win the game with a checkmate. The world's best chess players can calculate 10-15 of these patterns at a time. When Kasparov lost against Deep Blue, the computer had evaluated two hundred million positions per second. When it comes to tactics, humans don't stand a chance.
Combining tactics into a cohesive plan of attack is called strategy. It requires creativity, and this is where humans shine. Strategy requires a big-picture view of the game. However, the problem is that chess tactics get you much further than chess strategy, which is why computers can crush humans. Computers are tactically flawless. And humans–even grandmasters–make strategic mistakes that the computer is more than willing to punish.
The Dawn of Augmented Intelligence
It didn't take long for Kasparov to wonder what would happen if you combined a computer's high degree of skill in tactics with a human's propensity towards strategic thinking. The following year, he helped organize the first advanced chess tournament, where grandmasters paired with computers would compete against one another.
Once computers sat at the tactical helm, the game favored strategy over tactics. The better the player's ability to strategize, the more competitive edge that player would have. This led to a considerable shift in the dynamic between players. Kasparov, the world chess champion himself, settled for a 3-3 draw against a player whom he had beaten four games to zero in a traditional match just a month before.
But this was just the beginning.
A few years later, the first freestyle chess tournament was held, and it would be open to anyone, not just grandmasters. The teams could consist of humans and computers, known as centaurs. That's when a funny thing happened. The best centaurs were not made up of grandmasters, but amateurs. Not only did the amateurs beat Hydra–the world's best chess super-computer at the time–but also the grandmasters, who had years of training in tactics and strategy.
These amateurs were outsiders, considered decent chess players at best–far from being regarded as professionals. But with a wide range of computer and strategic skills, they were playing chess at the highest level. Technology enabled them to compete against grandmasters with access to the same technology–not to mention years of specialized training. The unconventional strategic moves made by these outsiders were so well executed that even grandmasters were left blindsided and unable to respond. Further still, their outside-the-box strategic thinking enabled their computers to calculate tactics that grandmasters never considered. Put another way, these newcomers played a different game, and the grandmasters were out of their element.
The outsider has the advantage in freestyle chess. Their unconventional approach to the game unlocks paths not taken by insiders. Technology enabled them to reach their potential to compete at the highest levels without the need to invest years in developing the necessary skills.
Strategy in the Age of AI
We are at a similar inflection point now. Generative artificial intelligence is beckoning a new monumental shift in every industry. Only this time, it isn't humans vs. computers. It's outsiders vs. insiders.
In the same way that the hobbyist chess player could outperform the grandmaster. It will be the outsider, alongside their AI, that will exceed the professional, the insider.
New technologies typically take incremental steps toward progress. But every now and then, a new piece of technology ushers in a new era: the iPhone, the internet, the automobile, and electricity, to name a few. But AI is unlike any of those innovations because an outsider, an amateur no less, can write a program in their native language. There's no need for them to learn to code.
Learning to write code is not unlike learning tactics in chess. The more a new programmer studies, the more patterns they recognize. The more patterns they recognize, the better the programmer they are.
A programmer can spend years honing their skills. Not unlike a grandmaster who spends their life learning tactics. A programmer who spends years developing their skills can work on better projects, earn a higher compensation, and have status. But what happens when a new piece of technology enables people to bypass years of specialized training? What happens when an amateur can suddenly go toe-to-toe with industry leaders? How are these programmers any different than the grandmasters, who suddenly found themselves losing to outsiders?
We are Entering the Age of Augmented Human Intelligence
AI unlocks skills and knowledge, enabling outsiders to achieve things previously reserved for insiders. Suddenly, the game will be one of strategy, creativity, and imagination. The industry will no longer be constrained by its professionals' ability to master its tactics. The industry will open up to newcomers with new, out-of-the-box ideas–unlocking new paths that the establishment never considered.
A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.
AI enables the jack-of-all-trades. And it will be the outsiders who reinvigorate industries. Their results will earn them the right to work on better projects, higher compensation, and status.
It is the outsider, empowered by technology, with a wide range of understanding of multiple disciplines, that has the uncanny ability to connect the dots across the multitude of silos that insiders love to build themselves into.
A monumental shift is coming. Are you ready?