Are Robots Really Taking Over?

Humans are wary that robots could replace them. So what can we learn from the legendary chess match between a supercomputer and Garry Kasparov?

The first time the word “robot” ever appeared in literature in the 1920s, the fictional machines rose up and killed their creators. We’ve been telling the same story ever since. From Hal 9000 to the Terminator, it often seems the measure of a fictional machine’s intelligence is best taken by its wish to do us harm.

It’s a scary vision for some observers, and not just technophobes: Scientists like Stephen Hawking; legacy technologists like Bill Gates; not to mention cutting-edge techies like Elon Musk, have all announced their worries about runaway A.I. killing off the human race.

Remarks like that tend to echo in the press. But how worried should we really be? Talking to the scientists working to solve some of A.I.’s toughest problems offers some answers. And so does taking a closer look at the legendary—and widely misunderstood – match between a supercomputer and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997.

This story was partially funded by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

View full episodes at

Previous versions
At Retro Report, we update our journalism as news unfolds. Here are the previous published versions of this story.
  • Producer: Erik German
  • Editor: Kristen Nutile
  • Associate Producer: Meral Agish