Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thiel-Kasparov debates

If you have 52 minutes, you may want to watch this video full of intelligent enough debates between the renowned chess player Garry Kasparov (a chronic world ex-champion and a sort of a political activist in Russia) and the renowned venture capitalist Peter Thiel (the founder of PayPal, the first major Facebook investor, a libertarian, and the supporter of world-changing projects, especially by college dropouts):

Video posted via Kasparov's YouTube channel

The topics include Google and its vision for the world, the replacement of humans by machines, the bad consequences of any looming nuclear war, politics in Russia, simultaneous chess games (in which Kasparov hasn't lost since 2001; Thiel is a very good player as well, he was surely strong enough in Nice a few years ago to beat your humble correspondent pretty much "reliably" back in Nice – but my chess scalp is surely not a source of pride for anyone who actually plays the game regularly).

They should have co-authored a book, The Blueprint, but the project has apparently been canceled. Maybe it was just delayed and renamed to The World of Fake Values where they argue that despite the widespread opinions, the world is switching to a slow development of technologies (Kasparov's words around 4:00 sound like an anti-singularity theme...). But maybe the comments about that other books are also obsolete and the book under this title was cancelled, too.

I am interested in your reactions to their ideas. This blog entry was later updated and extended.

At the beginning, Kasparov praises Thiel's intelligence and the breadth of his interests. I must confirm that. He was listening and meaningfully commenting on my remarks about particle physics and e.g. the discoveries that the LHC was or wasn't going to make back in 2010. And that was just a minor interest relatively to biology and evolution (or the lack of it) that he knows a great deal about – partly because he used to study it somewhere, or something like that. He also followed the climate debate (Richard Lindzen was the main speaker about this topic).

Around 3:30, Thiel betrays that it's really a program for Germans and he was born in Germany – he speaks German for a while. (Update: At the end, I learned that it was aired on ZDF, the Second German Public TV Channel, in 2010.)

At 5:00 or so, Kasparov says he had visited Google some weeks ago. It was about Deep Blue and computerized chess. Kasparov thinks that brute force "solved" the problem of computers playing chess well. Well, it's not a fully solved game, I would add, but the computers got better than the humans.

The discussion switches to the question whether machines or machine-human combinations are better and why. Thiel says that the Google ideology says that the computers will replace humans in 20 years. Technology advocates don't like to speak about the failures of technology, Thiel adds. To question a technology has become the greatest heresy, he thinks.

The next topic around 9:00 is whether politicians are smarter people, what they want to spend the money on, and whether Obama is a socialist. In an elevator, near 9:30, we learn that Kasparov isn't optimistic about too many things. Perhaps about the ability to convince the people to look for new ideas. Robots (and ancient ones; and some robots with GPS and cameras) showed by a guy. Another robot chap says that robot got faster and they're asked about the dates when robots will do certain things.

At 12:40, a 2010 Oslo talk by Thiel is shown, saying that technology may be used both for freedom and against it. We shouldn't be utopian about technology. Instead, it's important for us to use it, use it as the first ones, and use it now. At 13:10, Kasparov laughs as he describes the Internet just as a by-product of some work at CERN. Kasparov argues that except for speeds, iPads etc. can't do anything that PCs couldn't do 25 years ago. ;-) It sounds a bit exaggerated to me but I surely agree that the science-fiction novels written half a century ago were more optimistic about the speed of the robotic progress than the present reality. 40 years after Nixon's great words, we still don't have a cure for cancer. We're 40 years closer to the solution, however. ;-) Thiel adds that no one believes that the cure will come in 5 years. (I am actually ambivalent.)

15:50 – some fancy cars I've been in, too. ;-) 16:40 – chess was a good benchmark to measure the computers' progress because it has wisdom. Well, I surely disagree with that proposition. Chess has always been clearly just a particular game that is being won by brute force and the progress in the algorithms etc. was pretty much guaranteed to be just a gradual evolution, not a result of revolutions. There are other, deeper tasks that do require qualitative breakthroughs to be mastered by machines. BTW we're told that over a million of games a day is played via the Internet. At 18:00, they visit a chess club. A minute later, Kasparov doesn't want to play Thiel – it sounds like he doesn't want to crush Thiel but I am not sure whether he realizes that Thiel wouldn't necessarily be hopeless. ;-) Finally, Thiel plays a speedy game against the chess club manager. Thiel (white) doesn't accept draw at some moment. However, it seems he loses at the end and Kasparov is telling him what he should have played differently. Maurice Ashley, a British chess grandmaster, appears.

In the car, 25:40, Thiel says that when he's facing stronger players, he feels that the doom is coming gradually. Kasparov is skeptical and suggests that it depends on the strength of the opponent ;-) (he clearly wants to say that if Thiel played against Kasparov, Kasparov would destroy him rapidly, after a single move that turns out bad). Kasparov mentions his insane record in the simultaneous exhibitions (20-30 opponents at the same moment): no loss since 2001. Kasparov modestly tells us that he just has the stamina to walk around, keep pressure, and the 20-30 enemies just collapse. ;-)

At 28:00, they enter the Empire State Building. It sounds like I have been to the top more often than Thiel. :-) Kasparov boasts he knows the date of the construction. Thiel says that the inability to build a new World Trade Center for 9 years is a bigger failure than 9/11; this suggests that the video is from 2010, at least this part of it. Kasparov talks about some craziness in Russian politics. Kasparov said that the opposition wasn't important, the internal fights under the surface are more important, and young people massively want to flee Russia. Anywhere. Older folks are upset. A general degradation of the country follows.

They visit a human rights activist (in the Human Rights Foundation). He says things are getting worse. That's why they exist etc. Kasparov says that the West doesn't want to interfere, another problem. Thiel mentions a correlation between human rights and the economics (I mostly agree – after all, the human rights are a luxury that the wealthier ones are more likely to afford) – and a country with some ten-to-fourty inflation. The host prepared about 10 different coffees for Kasparov, all kinds – a repayment of the same debt. They discuss the immense inefficiency of the U.N. and lame excuses why it's inefficient (12 languages: but Marriott etc. can do these things profitably, anyway). Thiel says that in 20 years, the iconic status of the U.N. evaporated. The host partly disagrees – some people worship the U.N. – but he says that the U.N. isn't helpful. What should we do, the host asks? Shout loud, Kasparov suggests. Both famous guys propose technological progress as a solution to make the good guys and nations more influential. I am not sure it's this straightforward.

The host says that the human rights fight has become bureaucratized and therefore unappealing for the young; it is mostly a business for old folks in suits who talk in the U.N. The foundation wants to change it. They want to bring in Thiel and his technology and Kasparov and his brain that defeated the IBM computer – and the host believes that he did. ;-) Thiel is frustrated mostly by places that are screwed for a very long time. The host says that we're "racists of low expectations" who think that Haiti won't achieve much which is why we're not holding them accountable. Nice but your humble correspondent of course adds that it's the rational attitude because the expectations aren't just pulled from the air. They are built on lots of hard data that probably won't go away and it would be foolish to think that they may be ignored and the countries may be suddenly totally different than they are. The host says that every country may switch from liberal democracy to dictatorship in a decade. Well, yes, but certain other key things – that also determine the potential to return to liberal democracy – won't really deteriorate this quickly. Kasparov says that democracy has become just a word that may cover terrible atrocities, too. It may but it is a valuable arrangement by itself, one that increases the nations' chances to be decent, too. The host gives the Russian skateboard to Kasparov and the Chinese (?) skateboard to Thiel. Kasparov asks why Thiel received the Chinese ones, the answer is incoherent, but Thiel doesn't get offended easily. ;-)

41:30 – skateboards loaded to the cars. How will it end, Thiel asks? Growth etc. is the only optimistic scenario. For Kasparov, Martians' landing is more likely. Huh? Various degrees of recession and depression are discussed along with the world war (I was never into these doomsday scenarios much). Another bad outcome is a move to the left: governments confiscate the wealth everywhere. If the money doesn't have any value, the system doesn't work. I think these are sort of weird conspiracy theories. Money had an important value even in the communist world. You just can't suppress such basic parts of the human nature and the life of societies.

44:20 – dinner. Peter: a moment for classical liberalism to return. (Klaus is perhaps returning to top Czech politics, as a savior.) Kasparov talks about Buffett who predicts America's fall (China is next). Thiel points out that Buffett is all about avoiding the technology completely. Even on Mars, people will eat candy bars. ;-) Regardless of China, Thiel feels that you can only do decent things in the U.S. Kasparov says that Obama et al. don't care about technologies. Obama is just the community organizer, not a leader. Thiel says that they're not focusing on important things. Kasparov says that they can't even identify them. Thiel idealistically says that technology is "doing more with less" (austerity is "less with less", printing is "more with more"). Food arrives. Worries about propagation of nuclear weapons. Thiel thinks that the risk is underestimated. Kasparov points out that nations value life differently. Dictatorships are powerful because of fossil fuels etc., if the dependence on them is reduced, things get better. Well, I think that he contradicts his previous comments. A reduced dependence on fossil fuels will make the fossil-fuel-producing countries poorer and therefore even more screwed. Thiel asks what makes Kasparov continue while being pessimistic about most day-to-day issues. Kasparov is a born optimist, we hear. There will be too many questions and a few people who will give answers.

End of dinner, good bye, it was fun.


  1. Finally, Thiel plays a speedy game against the chess club manager. Thiel (white) doesn't accept draw at some moment. However, it seems he loses at the end and Kasparov is telling him what he should have played differently.

    No, they play the Bird variant of Spanish (not the usual and best black choice) and the black (manager) does a really very stupid blunder.

    First he sacrifices a pawn at b3 (wtf ?) and then moves his queen on d1 tying the white tower. White tower takes black tower and ... black pawn takes white tower. Of course white queen takes black queen and it is over - black (the manager looses). This blunder is actually so stupid that I can't believe that the black (manager) didn't do it on purpose even if I can't see why.

    It is probably not so speedy because there is a whole big chunk of the middle game that is not shown.

    Then Thiel asks whether it would have been a draw without the blunder what upsets Kasparov who is obviously irritated that the (both) guys understand little of chess, shouts "No, why ?" and explains that if the black had (correctly) taken the white queen with check first and the white tower second, it gave an end game where the white (Thiel) was winning because of his pawns on the left side.
    It is understandable that Kasparov didn't want to play with them because he would have probably felt like shooting fishes in a barrel.
    Only a short contribution about a small part of the video which has interested me ;)

  2. It's called a "rook" in English ;-)

    A little strange that it is English that uses a word that derives from the Persian rokh (chariot) while most other languages use the much more static "castle" or "tower". An exception is Russian in which it is "ладья", which is an old word for a Viking ship like here

    Apparently, that was what the original Indian figure represented.

    By the way, I agree that the game is awful ;-)

  3. Oh yes sorry, I knew that. But this is a problem of having a language interference pattern when too many coexist.
    In Czech, French, Spanish and German it's "tower" and these languages tend to dominate unconscious processes.

  4. I am sceptical with respect to technology. I do not believe it will solve our social problems. The real motives that drive humans are fears, lust, greed, envy, hunger for power and domination. In the past, religions tamed people by its morality, nowadays nobody believes in anything anymore, not in ideologies, not even in technology. We have no positive vision of the future. All ideals of the past have failed. We are in a deep crisis of values.
    Of course there are various technocrats who try to invent various Utopias for humankind - communism, libertarianism, conservatism, islamism, capitalism. In a book, all these Utopias look so simple and elegant, yet in practice none of them works. All of them are eroded from within by greed, power hunger, envy. All political systems invariably converge to oligarchies (Iron Law of Oligarchy).
    We do not need better machines, we need to change our values
    Concerning the replacement of humans with machines. I believe that all work that could be replaced already was replaced (assembly lines, agriculture). In the past, 80% of population was in agriculture to produce food. Nowadays 5% of people in agriculture can produce food for the rest, and the rest is employed in industry and services. Our whole economy is rooted in endless consumption of mostly unnecessary things. 80% of economy is fake (various financial speculations, inflated stocks, virtual debts). How fragile modern economies are showed the Island crisis.
    In the next 100 years, we will not replace the human mind with machines. Artificial intelligence has some algorithms to perform various narrow tasks, but human mind is infinitely more flexible and versatile.
    PS: it is interesting what the commies in 1960 thought about the future and how the machines will replace people (Czech only)

  5. Dear Tom, I am impressed by your ability to analyze the game - I can't even quite see where the pieces are located.

    Lucretius: it's called a tower, "věž" [vyesh], in Czech. Similarly, the knight is simply called the "horse" i.e. "kůň" [kuun'] or, more officially, "jezdec" [horserider - but this is really knight, too]. The pawn is called "pěšec" [pyeshetz], a pedestrian.

  6. How does GDP work? My father told me an anecdote once. A whore has sex with a customer for $200 and the GDP has just $200 increased, although in reality no value was produced at all. A a great deal of GDP today is produced similarly.

  7. Sorry, Mephisto, could you please offer a more comprehensible explanation why you think that services such as this one shouldn't be counted to the GDP? Your suggestion that they shouldn't sounds totally stupid to me.

  8. GDP is supposed to be some kind of measure of the overall wealth of society. But it is a very inadequate measure with many flaws. What is important is the structure of the economy, not the GDP. Some critique of GDP for example here


  9. The author is a crank.

    I insist that this thinking of yours is totalitarian in character because you want to declare yourself the omniscient God who has the right to say what people should be spending their money for and what they shouldn't. Even during communism, the leaders couldn't really do it. You are more unhinged than Milouš Jakeš was in this respect.

  10. I would love to be a dictator. Of course that I would be enlightened. But you create a straw man out of me. I didn't say that I want to regulate prices, I said that GPD is a bad measure of the healthiness of economy.

    Imagine 2 towns which are at some point equal. In one town, all men spend most of their moneys for prostitutes, alcohol and drugs. In the other town most men spent the money investing in better infrastructure, in science, new enterprizes etc. The GDP will be equal, because both cities spent the same amount of money for goods and services in the same period. Which of the towns is better? I just want to illustrate, that the structure of the economy is in the long run more important than GDP. The structure of economy means what is produced, bought and sold within the society. GDP doesnt reflect this.

  11. Dear Mephisto, how could you possibly be an enlightened dictator if you are making these comically childish mistakes all the time?

    In your scenario, you claim that the men spent their money on prostitutes. Great. But how do they earn the money? If they don't do any work useful for others, they can't have any money to spend on the prostitutes, so your example is mathematically impossible nonsense.

    There can't be any "paradox" of this sort that would invalidate the concept of the GDP. You must be really stupid if you don't understand this simple point. The men in town who want prostitutes must also earn some money for the prostitute and some money to have food and other things to survive, otherwise your town doesn't exist, at least not in the long run.

    But once the town produces all this activity, it's just OK and you may compare the two towns - using market exchange rate between their currencies if different. A town that spends too much on fucking and too little on infrastructure and investments will probably have a lower GDP over time. But it's plausible that it will have a higher GDP too and if it will have a higher GDP, it is evidence that their strategy of fucking instead of building useless socialist projects was a good idea whether a commie like you likes it or not.

  12. In Polish too it is "wieża". But the knight is not a "koń" (horse) but "skoczek" (jumper). But I think Russian has the most interesting names. The piece called the bishop in English ("goniec" in Polish) is called "cлон" (elephant) in Russian, which I find rather nice.

  13. Well, the money could have come from preceding generations. They inherited the money from the hard-working fore-fathers. They inherited houses, shops, infrastructure. After they spent their cash, they started selling the propriety so they could continue to debauch. Like sons of wealthy aristocrats who spent all the wealth of forefathers in gambling. Similarly, the governments in the 90ties in Czech Republic had good budgets because they covered it with money from privatizations. But in reality, if one looked closer, the budgets were rotten. Now the money from privatizations is gone and we have nothing but ever increasing deficits. As you correctly said, the long run is important.

  14. Lubos, when you were at Harvard did you ever meet the British historian Niall Ferguson? He is probably the most famous conservative there these days and I think he would have supported most of your views.

    You can check it yourself: http://www.niallferguson.com

  15. I'm not sure it's amazing that Kasparov can defeat 20 or 30 opponents in simultaneous games, and this is aside from the fact that all masters can do it. I think the key thing is to be able to understand each game within a few seconds of approaching the board, which makes it plausible that any player, regardless of level, could simultaneously beat 20-30 opponents of a lower level, if he had this "instant understanding" at or a little below his own level.

  16. Mephisto - Even if we agree that some things consumed nowadays are relatively useless and in a better culture would better not be manufactured or provided, this does not make it wrong to include them in GDP. To make it wrong, you must suppose that GDP as presently measured is pretending to measure only the things you find necessary. It's not pretending that. You don't need to talk about GDP to make an argument that some things we consume would better not etc. Talk of GDP is just a way of making your argument better than it really is.

  17. In the next 100 years, we will not replace the human mind with machines.
    Artificial intelligence has some algorithms to perform various narrow
    tasks, but human mind is infinitely more flexible and versatile.

    I think it's an open question, and an inordinately difficult one, whether machines will reach human-level intelligence within 100 years, and I say this as one who has been extremely critical of AI for 40-50 years. I can say I'm just about convinced that a stored-program digital computer will never do it, but that's all. You sound like that's the only possibility that you're considering.

  18. This is hopeless, Mephisto. If someone is just spending savings, he is not contributing as a producer to the GDP. So if you have a society in which only prostitutes work, but they work as much as the men could, and let's approximately assume that all women are prostitutes, this society only has 1/2 of GDP of the society where people work. If you can't figure out these basic things, why the hell are you trying to talk about a concept - GDP - that goes well beyond your mental abilities?

  19. Dear lucretius, I have known the name for years but AFAIK I never met him. It seems unlikely that he would be invited to the Harvard Society of Fellows for a dinner which may have been the most likely place to meet him.

    So at least I "know" him because the two of us are two main alive targets of a pig's attacks:

  20. Use evolutionary programming to "learn like a baby." Deep Blue was simply brute force programming and not very interesting. An example of evolutionary programming was "Blondie 24" a checkers playing program. (A book of the same name about this by David Fogel). Evolutionary programming and genetic algorithms have been used in designing circuits; NASA used it to design a satellite antenna etc.

  21. I'm well aware of evolutionary programming, or genetic programming. Any argument that a program could reach human-level intelligence must explain how in some reasonably serious way. It doesn't have to be conclusive, but it must do far more than simply naming a "how."

    Blondie 24 is better than Arthur Samuel's 1959 checkers-playing program, but fundamentally they're similar. Blondie 24's superiority is not due to anything like more years of learning by Samuel's program. :-) It's due to logic changes which make it hew more closely to what checkers is really all about (for lack of a better phrase).

  22. I am doubtful that the Harvard Fellows would have much enjoyed Ferguson’s company, particularly if he came with his wife, the beautiful and great anti-Islamist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    Thanks for the link to Pig’s blog. Last week I finally unsubscribed Woit’s blog from my RSS reader so there was room for something new but after spending about an hour reading various posts I decided it would not be much of an improvement.

    Pig is a weird guy. His does not seem to be really a leftist but a pretty conventional American "liberal". His main virtue is the ability to read opinions of people with he generally disagrees about politics. He can even admire some of these people (this is clear at least in the case of you and Ferguson).

    On the other hand, you cannot find in the entire blog a single original idea on any matter of substance. This is probably a good thing in his case, since it is probably better to have mediocre borrowed ideas that stupid ones of your own (unless you have at least one really good one to make up for all the rest). It seems to me that this must be the reason for the grudging admiration he shows for you and Ferguson. To someone like him people who think for themselves and say things that are different from the usual platitudes must seem amazing.

    I find it hard to decide what his speciality could be. He clearly knows more about science than history (his posts on Ferguson are uninteresting and related only to the latter’s writings on the British Empire - actually perhaps the least interesting and original part of Ferguson’s work. The really original and fascinating works are on the history of the Rotschilds and the origins of WWI - but Pig does not seem to have read them). On the other hand, he does not seem to know that much about physics and even less about mathematics - I could find nothing but the most trivial remarks on the latter. So in view of that, his fascination with you blog looks like a strange obsession. Do you have any explanation?

    Anyway, the value of his blog lies mainly in the links one can find there. I found some interesting ones to this one ;-)

  23. Lucretius, I disagree with everything you write!

    Pig isn't really a fanatic leftist of the kinds I know - although I sometimes tell him such a thing. Pretty ordinary Democratic partisan, not necessarily "too progressive". And a pretty tolerant ones towards the other sides. And a completely unoriginal blog etc.

    And exactly, fellows would generally not invite such people. The scene in which a Senior Fellow openly said that they only elected Tom Kelly, a philosopher and the only GOP member in years among junior fellows, because they didn't know about his politics!

    These things are so hardwired that he wouldn't hesitate for a millisecond before he shared such information with people like me - at that point, he probably didn't know what I was politically, either. His wife - something similar although she would get two pluses for two minority statuses, too.

  24. I know something about AI also. My Ph.D. is about application of machine learning algorithms to neuroimaging data. If I have 50 brain scans of psychopaths and 50 brain scans of healthy controls, I can train a machine learning classifier and use it on a new brain scan to decide if someone is a psychopath (and visualize exactly those voxels where the psychopaths brain differs from the normal brain - by means of Gini importance). Hopefully in the future we will be able to scan all politicians.

    And I know the algorithms - random forest (which I am most familiar with), support vector machines, manifold learning, Bayesian networks, genetic programming, artificial neural networks (ANNs). All of the algorithms are in essence very limited and very primitive. The most realistic are the ANNs. (the most advanced kind is deep learning)

    And I know also enough about he physiology of the brain and I am absolutely sure that we are very very very far from coming even close to creating a machine with human brain capabilities. We will probably never create a comparable kind of artificial intelligence. We haven't even understood how consciousness arises in the brain (selective attention). Optimistic claims about AI come from computer scientists (who dont know much about brain or consiousness)

  25. Dear Luboš, can we play an Internet chess game? Pleeeease? I'd love to crush you like a bug, it'll be the one time in my life that I do something better than you :)

    Kasparov is powerfully smart but he's also a fool about some things. For a while he espoused the theory that there's a century gratuitously inserted in history books (early middle ages) and that we've all been taught wrong. Also, while his involvement in Russia's pro-democracy movement is laudable, he's made some poor choices, such as allying with the Stalinists (on the theory that "Putin's enemy must be my friend").

    But he did get hit in the head (with a chessboard!) by one of the "nashi-ists" (young Putin-supporting thugs) in Moscow one day and arrested and put in jail on another occasion, so he has a smidgen of "street cred". It isn't enough for Joe Russian, though. I'm afraid the antisemitism (his late father was Jewish) is just too strong for Kaspy to be accepted as a candidate for political office.

  26. It is not so.
    For having played simultaneous when I was a kid (once as one of 30 against Pachman, a GM where 28 lost and I drew or, perhaps, he let the 12 years kid draw :)) and sometimes against several (never more than 7), I can tell you that there is a qualitative difference in chess.
    A kind of critical threshold that most players never reach.
    Below the threshold you think in terms of moves and material advantage - e.g "if I do that, what happens ?" or "if I give 1 pawn for a bishop I win". This way overloads your hardware so that you can't play against many people in limited time.
    Above the threshold you think in holistic or topological terms e.g you evaluate the strength of a position (f.ex a GM woudl say "the control of C6 is extremely strong") and the moves are just a means to reach a position stronger than the opponent's. The win is then just an almost irrelevant corollary. This is much less time consuming so that you can play against many and mostly win.
    I had a glimpse of this threshold because in communist countries there was a kind of chess religion and kids were taught chess in school.
    Like Lubos is fond of saying, to be a good scientist one needs mad HaXoR skillz and hard work.
    As they have seen that I had skills in chess, they wanted to add the hard work part.
    I gave up after 2 years. First it is not fun to study the theory of openings when one is 12 but mostly I couldn't support the stress.
    Chess like Formula 1 is a disciplin where you must be able to live through 2 hours where at every second you are sharply aware of the fact that the smallest error means death. Spiritual in one case and physical in the other.
    This generates a pressure that needs a very special personality (the kind called "steel nerves" or "totally crazy"), I was clearly lacking that and decided that there was no reason to submit myself every week end to a sophisticated torture.
    What stays is that there is a big qualitative difference between Kasparov playing 30 high level players and you playing 30 players even if they are weaker than you.

  27. Dear Eugene, be sure would beat me in most similar disciplines, not just chess. AFAIK I have never played a full chess game over the Internet, for example.

    The Russian politics is complicated. I generally feel involved only if their questions carefully mimic ours including our situation which is rare. There are obviously lots of wrong, reactionary things in Russia. Some of them are correlated with what I consider the illnesses of the contemporary West so I sometimes root for people who may look reactionary from a less detailed viewpoint, and so on.

    Someone sent me articles about the anti-gay-propaganda laws in Russia and so on. Of course that I am closer to the liberal side - it's everyone's decision where he inserts his body parts and so on - but concerning the education at school, what to say about it, and so on, I find it kind of legitimate for a nation to say that the gay activities are wrong things to do if people just feel so. And they may feel so and justify it by some quasi-arguments, too.

    At any rate, to expect or demand Russia to look exactly like a particular modern PC Western nation seems stupid to me. It's a denial of the significant differences in the history, significantly different experience and even genetic predispositions to certain beliefs etc. One may support people who are terrorized in Russia if there's a good case for it but if there's really no one hurt, I find it wrong to try to force Russians to believe some of the Western theses, especially the theses I don't believe myself.

  28. The crazy ideas about history that Kasparov for a while supported were due to Anatoly Fomenko, a crazy person but very good mathematician (these two things are by no means incompatible).


    Fomenko is also the author of fantastic (in the sense of fantasy) drawings that illustrate mathematical concepts in several books on topology, most notably "Homotopic Topology", by Fuks, Fomenko and Gutenmacher. Published in the Soviet days on poor quality paper this book has enjoyed a "cult status" among algebraic topologists, primarily because of the pictures (although the mathematics is also interesting, based on a very intuitive approach).

    Vladimir Arnold (my favourite modern mathematician who died 3 years ago) makes fun of Fomenko's ideas in a number of his books. In his very entertaining and informative book "Huygens and Barrow, Newton and Hooke" he wrote:

    The idea that chronology is a very important science was obvious to everybody at that time, including Newton. (And at present
    some mathematicians, probably following Barrow and Newton,though not in England, but in Moscow, are keenly interested in
    problems of chronology). Newton was very seriously engaged in the chronology of ancient Egypt. The following problem arose
    in it. So much historical information, discovered up to this time, had already accumulated that did not agree with the biblical dates of the creation of the world. According to the Bible, the duration
    of Man's existence, from Noah to the birth of Christ, was 2348 years, but there were many Pharaohs and dynasties, and there was
    not room for all of them. Newton wrote special texts in which he suggested a way out of this difficulty. He found Pharaohs in the
    Bible whose name began with the letter S (Sheshonk, or Shishak) and Herodotus mentioned another Pharaoh with a different
    name, but also beginning with S (Sesostris, now called Senurset).
    Newton suggested that these two Pharaohs should be regarded as one, accordingly correcting the ancient Egyptian chronology
    (shortening it by 2000 years - entirely in the spirit of modern mathematicians).

  29. I agree with every word and God knows that I have serious reasons to hate Soviets who happened to be massively Russian.
    For instance there has been much frothing at the mouth, indignation and such in France when Russian courts sent the IQ handicapped Pussy Riot band (what a moronic name !) to Siberia. They can be lucky that batyouschka Stalin is no more here because with him it'd have been a term of reinforced severity camp.
    Now these idiots did nothing less than desecrate a cathedral.
    French media might not care about church desecrations especially if it is christian and support the right of every screaming girl to insult the beliefs and the culture of other people.
    But as it happens I spent my hollidays in Baltic countries and among others entered an orthodox church in Kaunas on Sunday.
    I am not a believer but I have been extraordinarily impressed by the number and the devotion of the people there. Totally crowded with 9 to 99 years old people, all obviously united by a common fervour and friendly with everybody.
    Now Kaunas is Lituania but an orthodox church in Russia means even more.
    70 years of communist attempts to eradicate physically churches and christians didn't succeed. Even Stalin capitulated and Putin (a former KGB officer !) kisses the Patriarch's ring when he meets him.
    If that is not teaching something about Russia to those fools in PC media in France (and in the West) then nothing will.
    So here, similarily to Lubos' comments, my sympathy goes to the Russians and not to the arrogant Pussy Riots who knowingly broke valid laws and insulted millions of Russians. If anything, they were lucky to get only 4 months but at least it is a strong message to anybody who would like to break similar valid russian laws on russian territory.

  30. My story is quite similar. As a kid in Poland also started playing competitive chess but had to give up because of serious problems with sleeping caused by the stress. I remember chess pieces moving in my head all night after every competitive game.

    All those things you say about simultaneous chess are even more true in the case of "blindfold chess", so much that playing blindfold chess was officially banned in the Soviet Union in the 1930s as harmful to health. But in recent time blindfold chess has become popular again.

  31. It is not so.

    I certainly agree that you may be right, but I'll make a couple of objections.

    1. Among us lesser lights there is such a thing as recognizing the strength or weakness of a position, however inferior the seeing may be. For admittedly extreme example, a lesser light can see that an even lesser light is not controlling the center.

    2. For a player who is not above the mentioned threshold, playing for material advantage might be sufficient for beating 20-30 inferior opponents.

  32. Actually 1) is the basis of the distinction between "strategy" and "tactics" in chess.

    Tactics is basically local and "computational" while strategy is global.

    This becomes even clearer when you compare the two Far Eastern games, which are both more complex than chess (much harder for computers): shogi (Japanese chess) and Go. Shogi has much more complex tactics than chess, primarily due to the rule that allows one to "drop" captured pieces anywhere and any time during a game. This adds enormous complexity to the tactical side of the game, while the strategy remains largely the same as in chess. Go, on the other hand is purely global i.e. strategic.

    In computer Go the "brute force" approach, is at this time, hopeless. A variety of approaches making use of mathematical ideas and AI are used. In fact, there is a remarkable book by Berklamp and Wolfe (based on ideas of the John Conway, a great British mathematician who invented the game of "Life") that can "solve" a variety of Go end games using combinatorial game theory, often better than Go professionals can. But that is true only of certain late stage end games.

  33. Yes, fine, but I'm suggesting that strategy is not totally absent among not-so-great chess players.

    I know that computers have not done well with go, but I'm talking about chess.

    Maybe you can explain what strategy consists of, but please put most of your effort on chess strategy.

  34. Something else, Lucretius. One night many, many years ago, late-night talk show host Tom Snyder had Bobby Fisher as his guest. Snyder told Fisher that he didn't understand why highly rated players resign as early as they do.

    Fisher answered with an example. He set up the board as it had been in some game with Boris Spassky when Spassky resigned. There were still lots of pieces on the board.

    Fisher very rapidly showed combinations leading to obviously unacceptable loss of material for Spassky, and said that these were the only possibilities Spassky had, so he resigned.

    Well, that's not talking about strategy.

  35. Sure, but Fisher both very good at strategy and excellent chess "calculator". So was, in fact, Spassky, and even more so Tal.

    Firmly on the other side was Tigran Petrosian, probably the most "strategical" player sine Nimowitsch. The most characteristic Petrosian device was an exchange of a stronger piece (e.g. a rook) for a weaker one (e.g. a knight) in exchange for a superior position and "long term advantage". Even top class players often often found it difficult to evaluate these sacrifices but Petrosian was invariably proved right.