Technology

Google's AlphaGo Beats Go Champion 4-1 In Landmark Victory For AI

March 17, 2016 | by Robin Andrews

Photo credit: AlphaGo is now the reigning Go champion. Getty Images

AlphaGo, Google’s artificial intelligence (AI), has trounced the current world champion Lee Se-dol at the game of Go, four matches to one. Despite having very simple rules, this ancient game has trillions upon trillions of possible moves and permutations, so AlphaGo’s victory is seen as a landmark in the evolution of AI.

The tournament – which took place in Seoul, South Korea – showcased the AI’s formidable calculating power, which is part of Google’s overarching DeepMind program. Back in October of last year, AlphaGo defeated the reigning European Go champion five games to zero, and it has now risen to the very top of the field.

Mr Lee said after that, although the defeat had "challenged" his ideas about the game Go, he did not necessarily think AlphaGo was superior to humans, reported the BBC. After the comprehensive win, Google said it would donate the $1 million prize to various organizations, including UNICEF, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) charities and a few Go groups.

Go is a 2,500-year-old Chinese game that is widely considered one of the most complex games every developed. Its rules are relatively simple; each player has to use their beads, black or white, to surround their opponent’s beads on a 19 x 19 grid. Interconnected beads demarcate individual player’s territory, so at heart, it is somewhat similar to chess.

However, chess is far less complicated than Go, mathematically speaking. Although the number of possible moves in chess is ludicrously high, in Go, there are around 1 x 10170 possible configurations – that’s the number one with 170 zeros after it. To put it another way, there are more configurations than there are atoms in the universe.

Mr Lee is humbled but magnanimous in defeat. Gettyimages/JUNG YEON-JE/Staff

AIs have long been able to beat expert human chess players at their own game, as was most famously demonstrated by world chess champion Garry Kasparov’s defeat to the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in 1997. AlphaGo has spent a long time playing the game Go against older versions of itself, and its recent tournament victories has cemented its rise as a formidable intellect in this regard.

To the relief of human Go players everywhere, Mr Lee did manage to win the fourth match, despite being left speechless after losing the second to AlphaGo, which played a “nearly perfect game.” According to BBC News, Mr Lee said that he has “never been congratulated so much because I’ve won one game.”

Mr Lee’s sole win is particularly impressive given that, just beforehand, AlphaGo was granted “divine” status by the Korea Baduk Association, a governing body for the game of Go. This daunting ranking implies that the AI’s gaming ability has bordered on god-like.

Although it is somewhat of a stretch to say that AlphaGo will become sentient and take over the world, this AI wunderkind is a perfect example of why many predict robots will soon take over many human-run jobs, particularly those that involve tasks with repeating patterns. It begins, as some may say.

Many have started speculating what challenge it, or indeed similar AIs, may take on next. Some have suggested poker or even video games like StarCraft, far more advanced games that humans will have a distinct advantage in – for now.

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