Game-Changing Technologies Have Transformed Chess — Is Your Business Next?
An interview with Sebastian Kuhnert, Vice President of Business Development at Chess.com
The game of chess as we know it today has captivated players since the 16th century. In the 1940s, as Alan Turing worked to develop the first modern computers, he turned to chess as “an example of what computers could do.” Turing wrote the first computer chess program in 1950, bringing the centuries-old game into the emerging digital age.
More than 70 years later, chess’s digital evolution continues. Game-changing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and extended reality – such as the metaverse – are creating opportunities for people to learn and immerse themselves in chess like never before.
Today, chess innovators like Sebastian Kuhnert and his peers are leveraging computer engines to help people improve their game and developing bots so skilled that people relish the challenge of trying to beat them. These technological advances, along with the rise of chess in popular media, like Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, are helping fuel a chess renaissance.
Digital Transformation Helps Drive a Chess Renaissance
If the popularity of Chess.com and chess-related Tik Tok content is any indication, the chess renaissance is well underway. Kuhnert, who serves as Vice President of Business Development for the company, reports that it has become one of the 110 largest websites in the world and one of the top 10 mobile apps in most countries, with over 120 million members and more than 10 million daily and over 55 million monthly active users.
A computer engine based on Magnus Carlsen
According to Kuhnert, AI in particular has been an influential technology. For example, one of the first applications developed by Play Magnus Group, the company where he served as Chief Business Development Officer leading up to a successful acquisition by Chess.com, was a computer engine based on Magnus Carlsen, the reigning world chess champion.
Using data from all the games Magnus played since he was seven, the application allows users to “play against” Magnus at different times in his life. “You really feel like you’re traveling in time and that he’s making the mistakes he would have made at certain points in his life,” says Kuhnert. He notes that once users begin “playing against” Magnus at the age of 10, he is so good that 99.9% of the world population can’t beat him anymore.
Mittens, the evil cat bot
Besides AI, Chess.com recently leveraged emerging technologies to code a ruthless chess-playing cat bot named Mittens. Kuhnert explains that Mittens is a perfect evil computer engine because it’s so cute that you don’t expect it to beat you. “Almost no human has a chance against this cat, but it doesn’t make you feel that way right away,” explains Kuhnert. “It’s a slow process to your destruction.”
Educational technology in chess
Also on the educational technology front, chess has made leaps and bounds: Chess prodigy Abhimanyu Mishra became the world’s youngest Grandmaster at 12-years of age using a new learning platform called Chessable.com to achieve his record speed. Chessable digitized popular chess books and applied algorithms and spatial repetition to make mastering chess faster than ever for its 1 million users.
The world’s first digital sports trophy
Emerging technologies are also impacting the way tournaments award chess competitors, with the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leveraging blockchain technology to award Magnus Carlsen a nonfungible token (NFT) as a digital sports trophy in 2021.They also created an identical copy of the trophy on the Ethereum blockchain, which was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Kuhnert notes that this offering engaged fans in an innovative way.
3 Game-Changing Technologies Redefining the 21st Century
As the world changes at an unprecedented pace, the chess industry is setting an example for all businesses of how emerging technologies can influence not only a product’s key features but also how that product is perceived and consumed by the general public.
To remain competitive long-term, businesses across all industries must act now and fully embrace digital transformation. We asked Kuhnert to expand upon three game-changing technologies that have growing implications for existing and future businesses across industries.
1. Artificial intelligence
The development of machines capable of performing tasks typically requiring human intelligence (e.g., reasoning, learning, acting intelligently), is heavily dependent on advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), which – according to Kuhnert, is “one of the most dominant technologies out there.”
In the chess world, AlphaZero leveraged artificial intelligence to teach itself how to “master the game of chess” and delivered game-changing insights that would influence the World Chess Championship 2018.
Kuhnert notes that AlphaZero provided insights that changed the way Magnus Carlsen played chess. “It demonstrated that some of the moves traditionally disregarded as weak by humans were actually legitimate strategies.”
Blockchain “connects decentralized systems in a format that is open source, versatile, and unalterably secure without depending on third parties so that everyone can participate directly in the exponential change that is taking place.”
“Blockchain transforms how we do business on the internet,” explains Kuhnert. “With this technology, one is no longer limited to gated ecosystems like the Apple or Google Play stores. It also provides greater transparency and the ability to potentially move into areas such as real-time accounting or supply chain management.”
3. The metaverse and extended reality technologies
What many are calling an inevitable iteration of the internet, the metaverse describes a vision for “a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space where humans experience life in ways they could not in the physical world,” reports TechTarget.
“The metaverse is essentially bringing together technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain in a virtual reality or mixed reality environment where you might have a blockchain-based economy and AI-generated virtual worlds that you can interact with in real time,” says Kuhnert. This could have an impact on how companies manage remote work in a variety of industries, with companies like Nike, Intel, and YouTube already working on virtual workplaces via the Metaverse.
How Businesses across Industries Can Integrate Game-Changing Technologies
Businesses of all sizes and industries can benefit from integrating game-changing technologies. The big question is how to explore these opportunities and adopt them strategically.
Kuhnert stresses the importance of ensuring that innovative technology supports your business’s core competencies. “Executing on your core competencies must be the priority. As new technologies emerge, you can experiment with them to see which ones support your core competencies and which are simply fun distractions,” Kuhnert says.
“A great approach for saying ‘yes’ to experimentation without letting it distract your company is to choose a team of 5-10 people from different divisions (business development, marketing, design, computer science, etc.) and allow them to explore a potentially game-changing technology,” he adds. “Within one year, you’ll have learned so much and be able to see the impact it could have on your organization.”
To companies hesitant about investing in these efforts, Kuhnert has a word of advice: “The cost of completely missing out on a new technology can be very high. But the cost of trying it out and failing is insignificant for most businesses.”
You can get a head-start exploring game-changing technologies that can transform your business with MIT xPRO’s 5-week course, Transformational Technologies: Applied Lessons from Sports. Learn more about this unique, asynchronous online course designed to help you acquire and apply the relevant knowledge on game-changing technologies in both your personal and professional life.