Episode 007:

Moves and Movers

with Garry Kasparov

April 7th, 2021

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Episode description

What can decision-making on the chessboard teach us about decision-making in the game of life? World Chess Champion and human rights activist Garry Kasparov, joins your host, Executive Director of the Alliance for Decision Education, Dr. Joe Sweeney, to discuss Garry’s hunger for chess and analyzing his games, his experience facing fierce competition, the importance of making your decisions in the right environment, and why today’s youth should recover the spirit of exploration, despite potential risks. You’ll also hear about the motto hung above Garry’s bed as a teenager: “If not you, who else?” and why “working like a machine” may no longer be a compliment in today’s age of technology.

To listen to more episodes, visit The Decision Education Podcast homepage.

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the Soviet Union in 1963, Garry Kasparov became the under-18 chess champion of the USSR at the age of 12 and the world under-20 champion at 17. He came to international fame at the age of 22 as the youngest world chess champion in history in 1985. Kasparov’s famous matches against the IBM super-computer Deep Blue in 1996-97 were key to bringing artificial intelligence, and chess, into the mainstream. They also sparked his passionate interest in AI and the human relationship with our increasingly intelligent machines.

Kasparov was one of the first prominent Soviets to call for democratic reforms in the Soviet Union. In 1990, he and his family escaped ethnic violence in his native Baku as the USSR collapsed. In 2005, Kasparov, in his 20th year as the world’s top-rated player, retired from professional chess to join the vanguard of the Russian pro-democracy movement. Facing imminent arrest during Putin’s crackdown, Kasparov moved from Moscow to New York City in 2013.

In 2012, Kasparov was named chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, succeeding Václav Havel. In 2016, he was named a Security Ambassador by Avast Software, where he discusses cybersecurity and the digital future, and to the executive board of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. In 2017, he founded the Renew Democracy Initiative, dedicated to promoting the principles of the free world. The US-based Kasparov Chess Foundation non-profit promotes the teaching of chess in education systems around the world.

Joe: I’m excited to welcome our guest today, Garry Kasparov. Garry is a Russian pro-democracy leader, global human rights activist, business speaker and author, and arguably the greatest chess player who has ever lived. In 1985, he became the youngest ever undisputed world chess champion at the age of 22. Since then, he’s battled IBM supercomputers, developed a keen interest in artificial intelligence, and become highly active in the global pro-democracy movement. In 2012, Kasparov was named chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. In 2017, he founded the Renew Democracy Initiative. Garry is also on the Advisory Council here at the Alliance for Decision Education. I’m just delighted to have you on the podcast, Garry. Thanks for doing this. And I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about what you’re doing and how you got to where you are?

Garry: Oh, that could be a very long story, Joe, so where do we start? Do we start in the winter evening in the city of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and deep south of the USSR 1968 and 1969. So that’s the winter when I first looked at a chess board and I loved it at first sight, watching my parents trying to solve a chess puzzle from the local newspaper. So that’s the beginning of this story. Should we talk about my rise to the chess Olympus that ended triumphantly in November 1985, November 9th, 1985 when I became the youngest world champion beating Anatoly Karpov, my great predecessor, the darling of the Soviet system. Should we talk about my engagement in the nascent sovereign pro-democracy movement in the late eighties and fight for democracy in Russia? Matches with IBM in 1996 and 1997? That many believe that it was the dawn of artificial intelligence, though I disagree. We can definitely cover it throughout our conversation. Or the moment that I decided to stop playing chess, professional chess, and moved into what some people mistakenly called politics in Russia. There, it was a fight for democracy and human rights, against rising Putin’s dictatorship. Or my activity as the chairman of Human Rights Foundation and the events that we run around the world bringing together dissidents and the human rights activists who are taking very brave stands against dictators, terrorists, and thugs of all of all types? Or the moment when I had to leave Russia due to an imminent criminal case against me and moved to New York City in 2013. Okay. Just you pick, I don’t know where to start!

Joe: I was very worried that this was …

Garry: And of course I wrote books. Just to summarize, this very strange introduction into what I’m doing now. I’m still wearing many hats. I’m speaking at many occasions, mostly it’s about AI and about human machine collaboration. And of course, since I left my professional chess career, I’ve been very active talking about decision-making, probably how we came to the point of our conversation today. I believe that one of the fundamental challenges that we are facing today, whether it’s in schools or colleges or workplace, or even, in retirement is our unwillingness to analyze our decision-making mechanism and recognize that decisions always have consequences. And that’s why I immediately accepted an invitation to join the Alliance, because I think analyzing the way we’re making decisions could save us from a lot of trouble and also could help us to pave the roads to a bright future.

“I believe that one of the fundamental challenges that we are facing today, whether it’s in schools or colleges or workplace, or even, in retirement is our unwillingness to analyze our decision-making mechanism and recognizing that decisions always have consequences.”

Joe: All right. So now all of us understand why we were so excited to have you on the podcast. It’s just a rich set of experiences to talk about, especially as connected to decision-making, and I’m fascinated by all of it, but I want to go back somewhat to the beginning. Tell us about Garry as a student and when he first experienced chess, what happened there? Give us the setting. Where are we in Azerbaijan at that point? Where is that happening? What’s it like what’s school like?

Garry: Yeah, I have to say that my recollection is somewhat vague. I was five and a half turning six. As I said, probably it’s winter time, though winters in Baku were not harsh. It was in the deep South of the Soviet Union. So we didn’t see much snow, so probably once every five years or even less. My parents looked at the chest diagram in the local newspaper once in a while and they tried to solve a puzzle there. And I learned how to move the pieces without being told. Look. That’s the story told by my mother. Because no one was there with a Twitter feed to report the moment that Garry Kasparov was first introduced to the game of chess. I think I just realized that there was something magical about these chess pieces and this board. There were some secrets.

And I could feel that it was like a match made in heaven. So it was like a magnet that brought me in. And even now, 50 plus years later, I still have a great passion for the game. I have to tell you that I’m 57 turning 58 in a few weeks time, but my passion for chess doesn’t age. And I enjoyed it very much, just learning about the pieces and I had a couple of books that my father brought in that I read with him. I think I learned how to read at age five.

Joe: Okay.

Garry: Early. And I read whatever I could get my hands on. And by age six or seven, I could read already serious literature on chess. So I could just go through the pages and I didn’t need any extra help.

Joe: Are you playing at home at that point? Are you playing with friends at school? What’s happening?

Garry: I remember playing with my uncle, the husband of my mother’s sister, who was a pretty good player. I would say he could play probably a certain category of player. So he already knew some basics and that old stuff. So this is for at least a year or two, he was ahead of me. So he was beating me, until I was eight. Yeah tragically my father died when I was seven. And it changed our lives because that was a shock for my mother. She was just three years old, a young beautiful woman and she lost her husband who was 39. For me, it was also quite a shock, but now I understand that before dying my father made a very important decision. Everyone in his family was a musician or had musical education. He was the only one who was an engineer, but even when he graduated in a class of violin. In the Weinstein family, my father’s family, music was a dominant factor, but he said just a few months before dying, because he was diagnosed with cancer, the final stage of leukemia, in August, just around his birthday, mid-August 1970. And he struggled for five months, died in January, but in September, he told my mother that our son, he had different kinds of brains, no music.

Joe: Oh wow.

Garry: Try chess, try chess. That was an executive decision that proved to be probably the best decision he ever made in his life. And I was sent to the chess section of Pioneer Palisson, Baku. I was seven. I was taken there by my uncle because my mother was of course next to my father at his bed.
And very quickly they discovered that I had great talent. It was obvious because I could pick up all the ideas very quickly. I get just to just, you know, I was so hungry for chess and then my mother when she recovered from this tragedy, she also realized that the right thing is not to push too far, too early. So she just gave me time actually to grow, to be more mature, and not to be overwhelmed by the game of chess. So she was always trying, not to slow down my progress, but to slow down my rise because facing strong competition at age eight, nine or ten, that’s tough.

At age ten, that was another turning point that after taking part in the first all union competition in Vilnius, summer 1973. It was the first old Soviet Union junior youth games. I’m not sure what’s the right translation. I was picked up as a talented kid for Botvinnik school, that’s Mikhail Botvinnik, the first Soviet world champion, called Patriarch of Soviet chess. And that was the beginning of long relations, even friendship there. I was 52 years younger than Mikhail Botvinnik, but he immediately saw something in me, beyond others, recognizing that that’s a talent that he wanted to nurture.

Joe: And what is it they’re seeing? Are they seeing just the result that you’re winning? Or are they seeing something you’re doing, decisions you’re making on the board that are different than others?

Garry: That’s an excellent question. The answer is of course, the latter, it’s not about the results. But when we sat in front of Botvinnik and showed our games to us. They were more mature, serious. They knew more about opening theory. And later I was told by our grandmaster, who worked with Botvinnik at the time that when I showed the games, Botvinnik looked at him and he looked at Botvinnik and they said, that’s amazing. It’s not just winning-

Joe: What does that mean, showing a game?

Garry: No, I just, you know, showed my game.

Joe: You’re just making the same moves again that already happened?

Garry: The game I played was out of place. I just showed my game. So a game I’d played and when you show the game, you show the moves and then you explain “If I went there, this would happen, but I could do this and he could do that…” But it’s also important how you explain what you did and the speed of the response to any questions. And it was almost lightning. And to my surprise, they picked me up. Because they thought it was something outstanding. And this is one of the memories I’ve spent so much time talking about, because that’s had an effect on me for many years. And even when I left professional chess, I thought that I had to share not just my experience from making decisions, but my experience of analyzing why certain decisions were made.

And that’s what I learned from Botvinnik. So, but the relationship with Botvinnik was absolutely instrumental, because Botvinnik was known for his very scientific approach. He believed chess was some form of science and you must analyze your own game. This is the first question you always ask: did you analyze your games? And many players, we just glanced and that was anathema to him. And I always entertained analysis. I always enjoyed looking at the games and trying to find new ideas. And Botvinnik convinced me, that’s what I learned. Any game you play, whether you win or lose, you have to go through it, you have to be very consistent and very bold, even relentless, to analyze games and find your own mistakes. Because this is the data that helps you to get better. So unless you keep getting better from game to game, you are not making any progress. Every game has data that you have to go through. You have to analyze, you have to process, and to make sure that the next day, the next game, you can utilize this information and surprise your opponents with some new ideas.

“Any game you play, whether you win or lose, you have to go through it, you have to be very consistent and very bold, even relentless, to analyze games and find your own mistakes. Because this is the data that helps you to get better.”

Joe: Could you give us an example of a decision and actually explain what it would mean to make a mistake in a decision that you made and how you found that out later or how you analyzed it?

Garry: Or we can talk about a good strategic choice first.

Joe: Well, I’m happy to [go with a good strategic choice] first. Go for it.

Garry: It’s the story of my first match with Anatoly Karpov, 1984. So, I was 21 years old. Young, arrogant, full of energy, crushed all the opposition on the way to the match. But I faced Anatoly Karpov, he was World Champion. He was 33. That’s a great age. He was dominant for 10 years since Bobby Fischer left without facing Karpov and I made a psychological miscalculation. Just not understanding that beating all the opposition prior to the match is not the same as winning the match against the World Champion, because the fact that he was a World Champion meant something. You are the best. Everything I did before, winning convincingly, and I even had a slightly higher rating at the time when I just faced him.

Joe: I remember reading that.

Garry: Yeah. That’s not enough. And I failed miserably just in the opening of the match. And we played, we played by very strict, old fashioned rules. So the winner had to win six games and draws were not counted. So simply win six games.

Joe: Wow.

Garry: And everyone thought, oh, it could be a very long match because I was losing probably one or two games a year, same for Karpov, so It started with a terrible backlash to me. I lost four games in the first nine. Four games. After game nine, it was 4-0 in Karpov’s favor. And something totally wrong. So one opening went wrong, and then game three and game six, I had just the typical Kasparov position, attack. I had few options to do this and that and I just totally screwed it completely. And then I lost the game during the adjournment. So for some of our audiences, we have to explain what is adjournment, because the games were adjourned. Now, by the way, it’s much easier because of the Queen’s Gambit. People watch the Queen’s Gambit, they know that games could be adjourned. Thanks to the show, where I also served as a consultant, so many of the chess things now could be easily explained to the general public. So there was an adjournment. I lost game six. I lost game seven. I also just make a terrible blunder in a time of trouble before time control. Game nine was also adjourned and I missed a draw.

Joe: Can I just ask, what are you thinking of this point? What do you think is happening?

Garry: No, it’s like in boxing, you’re just being hit once. So now what you need is time. Yeah. And that’s the bad strategic decision. One of the best, if not the best I ever made.

And again, thanks to my mother and Botvinnik and 4-0, your law. There’s no way you can come back. Karpov was dominant and the best you can hope for is that you will not lose six to nothing and just not to end the history from the wrong side, from the wrong door. Go against your own instincts. Don’t play sharp, aggressive chess. Make draws. Protract the agony. Play as long as you can. You don’t win now, you learn. Because yeah, okay, fine. You lose the match three years later, you come back. You use this experience. So from game nine, from losing game nine, I managed to make draws from game 10 to game 26.

Joe: Oh my gosh!

Garry: 17 draws. And people say “Oh, what Garry’s doing? This is not good. He’s not playing real chess.” Who cares? It’s about survival. Survival game is ugly. Survival game is not something that is very attractive. You are not getting any glory for that, but you’re there, and somehow I think it just, it adds psychological effect on Karpov. He thought, oh, I would attack. No, no, I just didn’t care. Defend, defend, draw, draw. Let’s go, the match continued. But game 27, I had him equalized easily after the opening, easy to draw. And then I just played so poorly and he outplayed me completely. He won five, zero, bingo. That’s over.

And now with another ex-World Champion, Mikhail Tal, also my great relations. He saw me after the game 27, the adjournment. And he said, young man, it’s over. All you can do is slam the door just, but make a big noise at the end. And somehow I felt that I could probably be a little bit more aggressive and I learned a lot and we made three more draws and game 31 Karpov announced that he would finish the match. I remember TV cameras. There’s all the people there. This is Soviet officials and he missed it. He was close, but he missed it. So there was a draw. And I think it was quite a shocking experience for him and the next day I won, so it became 5-1. Oh, yeah. And then, we played another 16 games. The match continued, actually, he somehow, he couldn’t even get close to me. So he had only one chance in the next 16 games, I had many, and eventually I won game 47 and 48. And then, the Soviet authorities, they were horrified by the fact that. I was still there. I was dead after game nine. Game 48, I’m still there, looking fresh and Karpov was terrified. So they called for FIDE President, President of the International Chess Federation, and the match was stopped due to the exhaustion of both players. And we had to resume our match next fall. So, I haven’t won the match, but I think that’s my greatest victory ever.

Joe: Yeah. I love how the process and the outcomes are different.

Garry: I survived a match that was lost after game nine and I was down five to nil. Now, I just never tried to calculate, what are the odds of surviving against a sitting World Champion? A dominant force in chess being down five to nil, he needed only one game to win and he failed.

So what’s happening now in 1985, in 1986, in 1987, 1990, we played World Championship matches, and all of the matches were very close. Very close, with one very important distinction. I won every decisive game. In 1985, before the last game, because we already played a limited number of games, I was at a leading 12 to 11. And as a world champion, he could retain the title, if he would have won. He lost. In 1987, the roles reversed before the last gig, he was leading 12 to 11 and I had to win to retain my title. I won the game. Every time we’d reached the climax, I won the decisive game. So that’s a good story.

Joe: That’s a great story!

Garry: It’s a good, good side of this decision-making. Yeah. And now my negative experience. Again, World Championship match. 15 years later, the year 2000. And I faced a young Russian star Vladimir Kramnik, someone who I helped earlier, so he was one of the students of Botvinnik-Kasparov School that we started after I won my title in 1985.

So, we had 2.5 years with talented Soviet players and Kramnik was one of them. And also as Botvinnik did many years before, I recognized Kramnik’s phenomenal talent and I opened a door for big chess for him by inviting him to the Russian Olympic team in 1992. It was the first Chess Olympiad after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So that’s why the tops of his players were spread between different former republics.

Joe: Right.

Garry: And it’s arguably, it was the least impressive Russian team ever. And we needed some fresh blood and against the advice of some experienced coaches, I said, Kramnik, who was just turning 17 during the Olympics, he had to be in the team. And he did great. So he had eight and a half out of nine as a second reserve. And that was the beginning of his extraordinary rise. And in 2000, we played a world championship match. And I made a few mistakes. One of them was that I underestimated the fact that in 1995, Kramnik worked with me when I faced Vishy Anand, the world championship match that was played in New York. Actually, I always remind people that it was played in the World Trade Center. The first game was on September 11th, 1995 on the very top of the World Trade Center. And Kramnik was one of my seconds in the match. So he helped me and he could see actually the way we worked from within. So like he had access to this in a kitchen of just preparation. He also learned from me and Botvinnik earlier and he also had a very good score against me. It was an even score. So we were just very close and we played even one blitz match in 1998, 24 games. Two days and it ended 12-12. So Kramnik had no fear, like many other players. He was well prepared. He knew me from inside. And he did something very fascinating during his preparation. He picked up a very old line that had been legally abandoned by top players for nearly a hundred years, the so-called Berlin Wall. It was a great choice because it actually proved to be a very good line for black. Now it’s one of the most popular lines. So it’s ironically there. One part of the line is just Berlin Wall, that part that Kramnik [played], and one that’s what I played, sharper line. But Kramnik actually opened the new chapter. It’s not just that was totally undeveloped, but it immediately led to the end game. So the queens were gone. So the early change of Queens, but many other pieces – it’s not just a game with few pieces – you can call it a middle game without queens.

And he was right in anticipating that I was much better with Queens. I was a sharper player, and removing Queens, making his position more solid and less dramatic, would be the advantage.

Joe: Right.

Garry: Now, that’s a great choice. But my mistake was that instead of recognizing that it’s the wrong turf for me to fight, I wanted to prove something. If I had time, with an unlimited match, maybe I could have recovered, but the match was 16 games. And I was banging into this wall with no avail and Kramnik also had very good preparation with white pieces. So he won game two and then on game 10, the match ended with 2 losses and 13 draws. I just couldn’t hit a single game.

Joe: Yeah wow.

Garry: And it’s just due to my stubbornness and unwillingness to just recognize that I still had many other tools in my possession.

Joe: Right.

Garry: I could still shift from one type of position to another. And I was really well-prepared, it’s not that I was unprepared and I just blew off my preparation by just swimming or just in the sea and watching movies. No, no, I worked really hard. I was so well-prepared, and the next couple of years, I could show the fruits of my preparation in other games against other players, but you have great preparation, you worked out everything that is happening on 90% of the territory, but your opponent is dragging you on the remaining 10%.

Joe: Yeah.

Garry: And instead of saying, okay, fine, yeah, you’re better prepared for this challenge, let me find something else. Not that I prepared, but just something else. I just tried to find something during the match and it didn’t work. Not that, you know, I was totally helpless in this position, eight months after the match, we played in one of the tournaments, it was the double round tournament, six players, top players in Astana, Kazakhstan. And before the last round Kramnik was half a point ahead. And I played white against him and I had to win and he chose Berlin Wall, but the wall collapsed that time. But again, I wish I had this kind of success in London in the year 2000, not in Astana in 2001. So that’s an important lesson: you know what you are good at. But you should also recognize that sometimes you just have to be flexible, the same way I was with Karpov. My mother eventually said,”Look, Garry. Maybe that’s it, not the punishment, but the price you paid because you saved the match and it was a miracle against Karpov. Maybe it was time to pay the debt.” Not that it made me feel happy, but that’s what she said.

Joe: I’m just, I’m thinking about the transferability of that insight to the decisions that we all make every day. And to make sure that we’re in a context where we’re likely to make decisions well, versus recognizing when we’re in a situation that either because we’re not prepared for it, or it’s not familiar, or we don’t have a reason to trust our intuition or wisdom of practice, that we should be really careful about making decisions. I don’t know if you gave that any thought outside of chess.

Garry: Yeah. One thing that I think people often miss, they just don’t get it. Not making a decision is also a decision. So that’s something that you should learn before even debating decision-making. Because trying to avoid making a decision is a decision. So our life is a complex system of millions of decisions we make.

“Not making a decision is also a decision.”

And the second rule, or just second element, of this complex system is that you shouldn’t separate decisions by their magnitude. Because we still go through the similar process of making decisions and people say, oh, this decision about war and peace, this decision about raising taxes, this is a decision about God forbid life and death on a military battlefield. But the decision about preparing birthday cake and organizing a party, it’s also a decision. And they go through similar processes. So we’ll see, again, the magnitude of the decision often shadows the structure of decisions we make. I try to decimate the process, in three categories: you look at the material, you look at the timing, and you look at the quality and no matter what we do, we always operate with these three elements, because we look for the materials, whether it’s chess, politics, business, buying a new house.

And then you look at the timing. So, the timing could be more complicated because it involves, oh, how many months I could get, how many years, it’s for mortgage, and also how far is this new house from my workplace or my children’s school.

And then the quality includes everything, the neighborhood, whether you have a park next to you, or the waterfront or you have a good school or not a good school. And then you start measuring these things against each other and we think, oh, it’s very trivial. It doesn’t matter.

The decision being trivial, doesn’t make it easier. Sometimes it’s more complicated because we’re not so much engaged in analyzing these different factors.

Joe: Yeah. One of the things that struck me about when I was reading about your experience with chess was that part of what you’re always doing is exploring alternatives for a decision. And when you move out into the world beyond the chess board, it’s not as obvious when to stop looking for new alternatives. There are more moves available then even on a chess board, because you can change the rules and you can introduce new pieces to try to extend that metaphor a little bit. Generating alternatives is obviously a thing that you’ve done so many times and have been so trained to always do for your decisions. What are the other things, besides the framework of material, time, and quality that you would say you’ve learned from chess that you apply now to all of your decisions?

Garry: What else alone is that the quality of your decision depends very much on the landscape, environment, circumstances that are surrounding this process. Because we are all different. And I always tell people that following advice that you heard from a guru, talking to a big crowd from the stage, is no good, because general advice doesn’t work. It’s like offering the same medicine for everybody who, God forbid, has COVID, or just any other virus. You have to give your tests, you have to know exactly what type of blood you have.

What are your potential preconditions? So this will differ. Decision-making is also unique. It’s just as unique as your fingerprints or DNA. Understanding who you are is very, very important. Knowing exactly what kind of situations you can handle better and worse is also very important. So in most of the battles we’re engaged in, whether it’s in sports or politics or business, we are facing opposition. It’s very important that we create conditions for our decision-making that are preferable to us. Because some of us are more dynamic and more aggressive, like myself. And some of us are more conservative and more reserved. It’s neither good, nor bad. Being who you are is not an advantage or disadvantage. I will be arguing for attack as an advantage because I’m more aggressive, but I know exactly that the player in tennis, for instance, who is very powerful at the backline, could be also number one. Yeah, so it’s not about being fire or ice. Karpov was ice, I was fire. Kramnik is probably more ice than fire. So you can win, you can lose. It’s about creating conditions where you can use your unique qualities, your unique features to your advantage and to downplay the importance of your opponent’s strikes.

So that’s about creating situations where you feel comfortable for decision-making, because many decisions will be done intuitively, like gut feelings. Many decisions are made with time pressure when you just don’t have to calculate and your instincts will prevail. So that’s why being surrounded by the circumstances that make the most comfortable landscape for your decision-making is one of the greatest secrets of success.

“So that’s why being surrounded by the circumstances that make the most comfortable landscape for your decision-making is one of the greatest secrets of success on the very top.”

Joe: I really appreciate that point of view. It’s one we haven’t heard before, and it certainly has a lot of merit. One of the things we’re trying to do is collect the insights of theoreticians and practitioners, and you kind of straddle both with regard to decision-making, and think about, okay, what’s the best about what we’ve learned that we could pass on to the next generation to improve their decision-making? When you think about that, when you think about the kinds of decisions they’re going to face, whether it’s dealing with intelligent machines or it’s dealing with issues of democracy and liberalism or human rights or it’s just personal decisions, like making a birthday cake, what’s the thing that really stands out to you as I wish every young person learned this about decision-making before they became an adult?

Garry: We’re about to open Pandora’s box debating the modern educational system, which I think it’s not modern, but antiquated. I think that’s one of the greatest problems that we have to deal with is the fact that our educational system is not built to help our kids, our children to face challenges that did exist today and will exist tomorrow.

So it’s an old fashioned system. It’s a system that is based on the one-way street, when the teacher was the central universe, authority and knowledge in the classroom. I always ask people to make this a mental experiment: to visualize someone traveling in a time machine from say 1875 to 2021, what could this person recognize? Nothing. Nothing, absolutely nothing. Everything will be new, will be sensational, will be mind boggling, except one [thing]: the classroom. Classroom was still the same. It still operates in very much the same environment. But the difference is that the kids today don’t understand how this could be a one way street because everything is interactive, right?

By swiping their finger, they can collect more data in a few minutes than their teacher could gather over years. Now that’s where we’re failing because we are still teaching them what, and instead we have to help them to understand how. Collecting data is no longer a challenge. They don’t need these books. How many kids read real books? They look at the screen. They are overwhelmed with data. There’s the flood of data, but what matters? That’s what we should teach them or actually share our experience. Somehow it reflects our relations with intelligent machines, since you mentioned them. Machines know the patterns, machines that have brute force. They calculate almost in the speed of light, but they still don’t know what matters. This is human. Machines can ask questions, but they don’t know what questions are relevant. I think we somehow have to teach our kids to be more human. Just to understand that you should no longer be proud to work like a machine. That was a kind of a compliment twenty-something years ago. Oh, he or she did all the work like a machine. Now the compliment is the opposite.

“We are still teaching [kids] what, and instead we have to help them to understand how.”

And I think this is something that we have to share with our children. This is the way to prepare them for the challenges of the future, because we don’t even know what kind of jobs will come in 10 years from now. There will be new jobs. I can tell you most of the jobs are prestigious today, they may be gone. Good. That’s called progress. It’s a new challenge. It’s speeding up. But we just have to tell them that there’s an experience that we gathered throughout our life. But they will be operating in a new environment because this is quite a revolutionary period.

In human history, there are moments that were relatively slow, maybe slow by our standards, but we definitely are living in an era where things happen fast and I think we just have to reconsider the way that the information that I’ve gathered before, the educational process will be reinvented to be adjusted for the challenges of the 21st century.

Joe: I appreciate that. I want to focus on something I’ve heard from you in a few of your stories and comments that I think is an important thread to pull out, which is you’ve got this deep… First of all, you’ve had an exceptional life. So a lot of kids might just look at that and say, okay, I want to have a life like Garry’s had, I want to do something extraordinary and do many extraordinary things, but you’ve also paid a lot of attention to what it is to be a human being and what we owe to ourselves with regard to how we make decisions, so as to live a good life, and then what we owe to one another in society, as fellow human beings.

And it seems to me that that has informed your work with the Renew Democracy Now Initiative. It informed your work in the activism you did back in Russia. Could you just say, if you’d like, a few things about what’s driving that, what does that mean to you? What is it about being human or having a human life that so inspires you to keep on looking for opportunities and making decisions?

Garry: Look, I grew up in the Soviet Union. That’s not an experience I want many kids to share. Though we still know that more than 60% of people on our planet live under authoritarian or totalitarian rule. Many of these people live in countries run by terrorists and thugs. But my experience definitely had a mark on me. I recognized at an early age the shortcomings of the Soviet system, but we also recognize that if you wanted to leave and just to go on your own business, you had to be quiet, but I couldn’t be very quiet. So, I immediately call it ‘abused’ my new status as a World Champion to raise my voice.

And I remember that’s one of the lessons again, coming from my mother, who put on top of my bed when I was a teenager or at 10, 12, 13, I don’t recall what age, a motto: “If not you, who else?” That’s one of the mottos of the Soviet dissonance. So you have to do it. You should not wait for others to join. Someone has to be first. And also I remember another lesson from Soviet dissidence: “do what you must and so be.” I have to confess that being World Champion in the Soviet Union, carrying this unique title offered me some protection, ironically, more in the Soviet Union than in Putin’s Russia.

“One of the lessons again, coming from my mother, who put on top of my bed when I was a teenager, or at 10, 12, 13, I don’t recall what age, a motto: ‘If not you, who else?’”

But it’s recognizing that we live in a world that is getting more and more complex. It’s a paradox because we think, oh, now with all these new devices that make us aware about what’s happening in the most remote parts of our planet. So we’ll be connected and it will create sort of better relations between people, but it’s not about technology, it’s about us. I feel annoyed, disappointed, even angry when I just see that any form of ideology is trying to intervene in the relations between people. Because I respect people, no matter their race, gender, religion, nationality. You have your own views and you’re entitled for your own views, your own history, your own beliefs, as long as they do not interfere with mine. Interfere, you don’t have to agree with me. You just don’t have to interfere. I think this is very important for our kids to understand. We’re different and the difference is not just race. It’s not about being white, black, or whatever, but even two people who belong to the same race, they are different. As I already said, decision-making is unique. We are different. Each person, each individual is absolutely unique in his or her own capacity.

And I also believe that talent is distributed everywhere. It’s not about one continent, one nation, one race being more talented or less. It’s about opportunity. As long as we recognize that, and as long as we offer opportunity for people around the globe, we will all benefit. And I know that sometimes, it’s tough because you do this and you face many challenges and you pay the very steep price. But while some individuals lose, humanity wins.

“I also believe that talent is distributed everywhere. It’s not about one continent, one nation, one race being more talented or less. It’s about opportunity. As long as we recognize that, and as long as we offer opportunity for people around the globe, we will all benefit.”

So that’s why if I have to address young people, you have to recover the spirit of exploration and understand the risk. I wish you to walk on the red dust off of Mars. And I want you to continue space exploration. I want you to go deep down the oceans and just to find out the oldest secrets of our Mother Earth that we have not yet discovered, but just remember, it’s a risk. But exploration is something that made us so unique. And I remember I addressed graduates. I did a commencement speech at St. Louis University in 2015, in St. Louis, Missouri. And I told them that today, flying to Mars is probably safer than for Columbus to cross the Atlantic because you know the distance and you have the map.

“So that’s why if I have to address young people, you have to recover the spirit of exploration and understand the risk. I wish you to walk on the red dust off of Mars. And I want you to continue space exploration. I want you to go deep down the oceans and just to find out the oldest secrets of our Mother Earth that we have not yet discovered.”

I think in this instance, we brought you, you meaning this new generation, unique technology, great opportunities, but you just have to turn them into something phenomenal because we’ve probably failed by trying to avoid risk. And COVID is just a reminder. You can have individuals or a group of people losing, but humanity always wins. When people are talking about AI threatening our jobs, yes, I don’t want to sound callous, I do recognize many jobs can be lost on the chopping block of automation, but when they say, “Oh, AI is threatening so many good jobs, the white collar, highly paid jobs of say radiology.” Yes. But while you’re talking about hundreds of maybe thousands of jobs in question, it also brings down the price of this process. It also gives opportunity for people elsewhere in Africa, in Asia to have access to that. So yes, you lose here, but humanity wins. That’s what I believe. It should be our message to the young generation and our contribution to their education. So you have all the resources, but now you just have to recover what we lost, the spirit of exploration and recognition that individual risk is also worth taking because even if you fail, you definitely contribute to the whole of humanity.

“Now you just have to recover what we lost, the spirit of exploration and recognition that individual risk is also worth taking because even if you fail, you definitely contribute to the whole of humanity.”

Joe: Well, thank you for that, Garry and for this entire conversation, I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed it thoroughly. We’re going to put links to the Renew Democracy Initiative on our site, as well as links to your books. Is there any other one book that you’d recommend to all of us to read about decision-making?

Garry: It’s it will be wrong for me to avoid the book that started with the word, how. My book starts with How Life Imitates Chess, but Annie Duke’s book starts with How to Decide. It’s just recognition that these two books actually, they should be read, in a combination, because one comes from chess, one comes from poker. And it creates a nice synergy. Because one comes from the game that is just based on a hundred percent available information. And one comes from the area of intuitive decision, sometimes bluff and pattern and probabilities. If you read these two books and try to merge them into one vision, I think that will be a great contribution to your decision-making formula. And if you look for How Life Imitates Chess, I recommend you try to have your hands on the UK edition, which is the original one. The U.S. is also fine, but the U.K. one is more of my voice because it’s the original one. It has more chess and more biography while the U.S. decision is more just straightforward business instead of ‘we’ language, it’s ‘you’ language and it’s more about tips, but still it’s okay, but try to get the U.K. edition.

Joe: All right. We’ll make sure we link that one. Thanks. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate this.

Garry: Thank you.

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