Which is smarter at chess? Humans or computers?

The answer seems obvious. After all, computer programs can process thousands or more chess moves ahead in the blink of an eye. Many of us remember the 1997 intellectual standoff between a super computer and then world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Spoiler alert—it didn’t end well for Garry, and if you haven’t followed the international chess scene in a few years, you may just assume 20 years later that grand master chess champions like Garry are irrelevant in chess altogether.

However, you may be surprised to learn that that’s not true at all. In fact, there are entire communities of online chess players that use computer programs to take their chess games to the next level. It’s called freestyle chess, where players combine their own intuition and skill with a computer’s raw processing speeds and pattern recognition. Not surprisingly, this combination is almost unbeatable and can transform even the most nascent chess players into champions.

What we’ve come to find out is that despite the doomsday scenarios in 1997 when Newsweek covered Kasparov’s loss, referring to it as “The Brain’s Last Stand,” computers are good for some things, but not everything. Rather, it is human understanding combined with the raw number crunching power of a computer that is the most effective approach in chess, and I suspect in education as well.

It’s no surprise that humans are better when it comes to intuition and empathy, as well as synthesizing social and emotional factors – critical skills in a teaching and learning environment – while machines are better at computing large amounts of data extremely quickly, serving as the enabler to a long-term view of student performance. This is the essential question, how can we best harness technology in its many forms to help us be more effective, and ultimately make better decisions specifically in our nation’s schools?

Perhaps now, more than ever, the education technology sector should take a page out of the chess community’s playbook: enable champions in the classroom through effective data to fully unleash the power of technology and elevate the human learning experience.

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