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FORMER CHESS CHAMPION Garry Kasparov sounded the alarm about Vladimir Putin’s regime in his 2015 book Winter Is Coming. The title echoes the motto of House Stark from the HBO series Game of Thrones, and that’s no accident.
“As you can guess, I’m a big fan,” Kasparov says in Episode 321 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I recently had a great experience touring some of the spots when they were shooting in Belfast, taking my wife and my daughter, who are also big fans of the show.”
Kasparov sees many parallels between life in Westeros and real-world politics. He says that Americans—like our fictional counterparts—are so consumed with petty squabbles that we’ve ignored a gathering threat.
“People are not ready for the challenge, for the evil that is coming from the North,” he says. “We have to make sure that we are ready for the challenge, because the damage caused by this too-bleak winter will depend very much on our ability—or inability—to make ourselves ready to defend the values of the free world.”
According to Kasparov, the Game of Thrones character that Putin most resembles is the wealthy lord Tywin Lannister. “I don’t think anybody is even close to Putin in terms of the amount of money this person—or group of people—can move around,” he says.
But unlike Tywin Lannister, Putin was not born into great wealth and power. In some ways that makes his early career more like that of Littlefinger, the master schemer who pulls strings from behind the scenes.
“Littlefinger was engaged in conversations with top players, and he was very good in actually finding their weaknesses, and ways to get under their skin, and make them comfortable by talking to him,” Kasparov says. “And that’s exactly what Putin did in the early years of his presidency.”
Listen to the complete interview with Garry Kasparov in Episode 321 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Garry Kasparov on Advanced Chess:
“The best players are used to playing their own game, so even recognizing the fact that the machine is much stronger today—and in most cases you should rely on the machine’s judgment—for top players, for a world champion and other players who are close to him by strength, it would be psychologically difficult—very challenging, almost impossible—to recognize this fact during the game when the emotions are running high. So that’s why you should find this golden balance of a good player—a decent player, who understands how to play—but at the same time will understand the requirements of this very machine. … To make sure that [any mistakes] can be solved by very gentle human interference.”
Garry Kasparov on killer robots:
“Being a doomsayer is good business. People are fascinated by this dystopian vision of the future. But I’m just looking at the facts, and at the latest developments of the machines, and I’d rather rely on people like Demis Hassabis, my very good friend, the man behind the Alpha Zero program, and other people who are at the cutting edge of computer technology, and who are not seeing any real threat to humanity. It’s not about the extinction of humanity, it’s about the promotion of human brains. I see no reason for entering into these useless debates, because at the end of the day, we have to deal with revolutionary technology, as we have many times, for many centuries in the past. Crying wolf doesn’t change the parameters of the problem.”
Garry Kasparov on dictators:
“When you look at the other side of the world, the unfree world, then you have very powerful players who don’t care about the rules, whether it’s the Chinese dictatorship, whether it’s Putin, whether it’s Iranian mullahs, or some quasi-state operations. They’re always looking for an opportunity to break through and to steal our data and to do us harm. … Data collection by Google might be unpleasant, but it’s not the same as data collection by Chinese security or the KGB. So it’s very important for us to understand that right now we have to look at this problem rather than wasting our time talking about killer robots and about The Terminator and The Matrix and some distant threat that may never materialize.”
Garry Kasparov on Bill Maher:
“Many Americans laughed at my assumption that one day Putin would attack America in the heart of its democracy. I remember my appearance at Bill Maher’s show on HBO in May 2015, and when I talked about threats coming from Putin, he said—this is almost verbatim—’Wake me up when he takes over Poland.’ And I jumped out of my chair and said, ‘That’s almost exactly what we heard from Chamberlain in 1938.’ It took the 2016 election for many Americans who shared this point of view—including Bill Maher himself—to change their views, and blast Putin for his interference. And of course I responded on Twitter, teasing him, and said it seemed Putin decided to skip over Poland and went straight to Wisconsin.”