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Chess legend Garry Kasparov warns of a 'cyber Cold War,' says Western 'political will' needed

Ryan Browne
Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov plays a game of chess with school children in South Africa.

Ominous warnings about artificial intelligence spelling doom for mankind are pointless — it's state actors like Russia and China we should be worrying about, according to former world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

"We should stop wasting our time talking of killer robots and terminators," Kasparov told reporters in Paris last week. "No matter how sophisticated algorithms may be, it still needs a bad human actor."

And as long as there are bad actors out there, he adds, "new technologies will give them new opportunities." For context, Kasparov was asked by CNBC about the possibility of AI being used in a new wave of potentially crippling cyberattacks.

"Right now we are in some sort of cyber Cold War, and deterrence is the only response," said Kasparov. "It seems like there's no political will to make such a strong statement."

He said Western countries like Britain, America and France should stop offering nations like Russia and China "futile compromises" when it comes to things like election interference and the theft of sensitive commercial data, because they will just continue to "break the rules."

Kasparov, who famously took on IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer at a game of chess in the late '90s — winning the first match and losing the second — has since become an outspoken political activist, and is now a security ambassador for antivirus maker Avast. He's widely considered to be the best chess player of all time.

A critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime, Kasparov has frequently warned of Moscow's meddling in elections like the U.S. 2016 presidential vote. Such claims of interference became the subject of a widely publicized probe by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller into President Donald Trump's campaign.

His comments come amid particularly strained relations between the U.S. and China, which are both in the midst of an intense trade war. To make matters worse, Washington is pushing for the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, on charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

U.S. officials allege the telecommunications giant's equipment could be used for Chinese spying. President Trump recently added further fuel to the flames by declaring a national emergency over the threat of "foreign adversaries," adding Huawei to a trade blacklist that blocks it from buying U.S. technology without special approval.