Autumn 2014

Up Front

Murray Campbell, ’79 BSc, ’81 MSc, had no plans to study computing science until, as a high school student, he attended a U of A open house. One right turn brought him face to face with a computer playing chess. It was 1974 and Campbell, an Alberta junior chess champion, was hooked.

Twenty-three years later, he watched the machine he’d helped build, Deep Blue, defeat Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. It was the “man walks on moon” moment for the artificial intelligence community and a watershed in human history.

Campbell is one of 41 U of A alumni being honoured with a 2014 Alumni Award on Sept. 18. Since this issue also examines leadership, we asked Campbell his thoughts on the topic. It turns out that his work on Deep Blue and in his current position at IBM’s cognitive computing research division can tell us a lot about how leaders of the future will make decisions.

The next generation of leaders will take advantage of “augmented intelligence,” says Campbell, where computers comb through massive amounts of data looking for key information. Just as Deep Blue analyzed more than 100 million chess moves per second before deciding on its next play, today’s computers can analyze all available data to recommend next moves to their human partners.

This is already helping us solve problems, determine the best course of action or figure out the questions we should be asking in the first place. Data crunching can even help supervisors improve the work environment, making their employees happier and more effective.

I have always believed in the success of the group model of leadership. Today’s grand challenges — sustainability, global health, social justice — can’t be solved by one man or woman. We all have leadership potential; it’s how we react when we’re asked to rise to the occasion that reveals the true leaders. Failure, ideally, leads to making the right choices next time. A lot like mastering chess.

“Just like in business and life decisions,” says Campbell, “chess teaches us we won’t win every time, but should accept losses, learn from them and move on.” Augmented intelligence won’t make choices for us, but can help us make more informed decisions, make us better at being human.

Sean Price 

Sean Price, ’95 BCom, MBA,
Associate Vice-President, Alumni Relations; Executive Director, Alumni Association