For a person fighting against cyber-warfare, online espionage and misinformation, Garry Kasparov is curiously optimistic about the future of technology. It’s the misuse of it by authoritarian governments that we have to be careful about, he said.
Speaking at the Digital Transformation Expo Europe in London, the Russian chess grandmaster cited his experience of losing a pair of six-game chess matches by IBM supercomputer Deep Blue to describe the three stages of accepting technology: denial of its capabilities, experiencing its applications and being either optimistic or pessimistic about its future prospects.
People tend to panic over surveillance states and mega corporations accessing their data and breaching their privacy, but don’t express the discomfort while opting for a voice-controlled personal assistant, he pointed out.
"It’s quite amazing that people somehow don't feel the cognitive dissonance when after buying Alexa, they complain about the price. They download facial recognition apps and say ‘I don't want my data to be collected by a giant corporation’," he said.
"If data is being produced -- and we can produce the data every second -- it will be collected by someone. So it's not trying to to stop this process, but regulating it, is the best protection."
Many of the problems that people complain about the misuse of technology can be avoided by following ‘digital hygiene’. It’s natural to be wary of the huge data that we generate and the way machines are fed them in order to learn more about our behaviour, but that fear is uncalled for, he said.
"Humans still have the monopoly for evil. The danger is not coming from a killer program, but from humans with evil intentions who use this technology -- ironically, technology invented in the free world --to undermine its very foundation," he said.
Those who blame technology to the impending end of the world forget the fact that technology is the major factor that keeps them alive these days, he pointed out.
"You look at the average lifespan in the last hundred years, it has almost doubled. We just have to recognise that our problems are mostly related to to the social fabric of our society. It’s geopolitical. The biggest challenge comes not from corporations but from the authoritarian governments that use this technology to spy on the citizens and attack our freedoms," he said.
Coming from a person living in exile since 2013, that statement hits hard. The use of technology to suppress democracy, dissent and human rights by the authoritarian government in Russia is well-documented. Speaking against that has put Kasparov’s life on the line.
In 2007, a former KGB general warned that he believed the former chess champion was next on a list of Putin critics to be assassinated.
"While it looks the same, there's a fundamental difference between Google data collection and KGB data collection. In the former, your data can be used without your prior knowledge to influence some elections, which is bad. But in the latter, it will be a deadly threat to you."
Though there are no immediate solutions when it comes to the misuse of the data collected by the corporations, the real challenge is people not aware of, or not using, the existing data-protection provisions, he said in a panel discussion later.
"Even in this imperfect world that has geopolitical challenges, I'm happy to see the GDPR regulations helping customers, though very few of them know about it. These could cripple the competitiveness of the (data-collecting) corporation. You look very well compared to countries like China and Russia, where corporations don't care," he said.