Dear Commons Community,
For several decades, the artificial intelligence (A.I.) community here in the United States was obsessed with developing a computer program that could win at chess. Google’s AlphaGo, a far more complex game, yesterday beat the Chinese Go master, marking another A.I. milestone. AlphaGo is a sophisticated A.I. software program that not only plays the game but learns from competition including competition with itself. As reported by the New York Times:
“It isn’t looking good for humanity.
The world’s best player of what might be humankind’s most complicated board game was defeated on Tuesday by a Google computer program. Adding insult to potentially deep existential injury, he was defeated at Go — a game that claims centuries of play by humans — in China, where the game was invented.
The human contender, a 19-year-old Chinese national named Ke Jie, and the computer are only a third of the way through their three-game match this week. And the contest does little to prove that software can mollify an angry co-worker, write a decent poem, raise a well-adjusted child or perform any number of distinctly human tasks.
But the victory by software called AlphaGo showed yet another way that computers could be developed to perform better than humans in highly complex tasks, and it offered a glimpse of the promise of new technologies that mimic the way the brain functions. AlphaGo’s success comes at a time when researchers are exploring the potential of artificial intelligence to do everything from drive cars to draft legal documents — a trend that has some serious thinkers pondering what to do when computers routinely replace humans in the workplace.
“Last year, it was still quite humanlike when it played,” Mr. Ke said after the game. “But this year, it became like a god of Go.”
Perhaps just as notably, the victory took place in China, a rising power in the field of artificial intelligence that is increasingly seen as a rival to the United States. Chinese officials perhaps unwittingly demonstrated their conflicted feelings at the victory by software backed by a company from the United States, as they cut off live streams of the contest within the mainland even as the official news media promoted the promise of artificial intelligence.
AlphaGo — which was developed by DeepMind, the artificial intelligence arm of Google’s parent, Alphabet Incorporated — has already pushed assumptions about just how creative a computer program can be. Since last year, when it defeated a highly ranked South Korean player at Go, it changed the way the top masters played the game. Players have praised the technology’s ability to make unorthodox moves and challenge assumptions core to a game that draws on thousands of years of tradition.
In the first game, Mr. Ke made several moves that commentators said were reminiscent of AlphaGo’s own style. Wearing a blue tie and thick-framed black glasses, the boyish Mr. Ke kept things close in the early going. By AlphaGo’s own assessment, it did not have a big statistical advantage until after the 50th move, according to a DeepMind co-founder, Demis Hassabis.
Mr. Ke, who smiled and shook his head as AlphaGo finished out the game, said afterward that his was a “bitter smile.” After he finishes this week’s match, he said, he would focus more on playing against human opponents, noting that the gap between humans and computers was becoming too great. He would treat the software more as a teacher, he said, to get inspiration and new ideas about moves.
“AlphaGo is improving too fast,” he said in a news conference after the game. “AlphaGo is like a different player this year compared to last year.”
Go, in which two players vie for control of a board using black and white pieces called stones, is considered complex because of the sheer number of possible moves. Even supercomputers cannot simply calculate all possible moves, presenting a big challenge for AlphaGo’s creators.
AlphaGo instead relies on new techniques that help it learn from experience playing a large number of games. This time, Mr. Hassabis said, a new approach allowed AlphaGo to learn more by playing games against itself. In the future, computer scientists hope to use similar techniques to do many things, including improving fundamental scientific research and diagnosing illnesses.”
AlphaGo is a small inkling of what lies ahead. In the next couple of decades, “god of go” technology will astound humankind with many more sophisticated and people-critical endeavors in medicine, education, and commerce.