Google’s Artificial Intelligence Sweeps Human ‘Go’ Champion

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A computer program from Google swept the second-best player in "Go," an East Asian board game, in three games. Wikimedia

Google’s AlphaGo computer program has beaten a human Go grandmaster three consecutive times, clinching the five-game Google DeepMind Challenge series and marking a historic step in the progress of artificial intelligence.

Lee Sedol, a Korean who is considered the second-best in the world at Go, was dominated by AlphaGo in the marquee man-versus-machine duel in Seoul. Go had been considered one of the last games humans in which have an advantage over artificial intelligence, as the East Asian game requires more complex decision-making intuitions than chess or Jeopardy.

In the four hours of gameplay, “AlphaGo controlled the momentum...with Lee struggling to maintain territory against the program’s creative approach,” Demis Hassabis, co-founder of Google’s artificial intelligence business, DeepMind, which created AlphaGo, said during a press conference, The Guardian reported. “Google DeepMind taught AlphaGo to recognize the optimal move in thousands of possible scenarios.”

On paper, Go is a simple two-person game, with each aiming to encircle more territory than the opponent in a 19-by-19 grid. The large surface area of the board, however, gives each move thousands of permutations, making it far more complex than most games.

Lee said after the game that he was chased around the board by AlphaGo’s aggressive play. “I’ve never played a game where I felt this amount of pressure, and I wasn’t able to overcome this pressure,” he said, according to The Guardian.

After Lee lost his second game on Friday, there was a sense of resignation and melancholy among the international Go community about a machine taking the edge over man for the first time in the game’s 3,000-year history. Some Korean newspapers used headlines that conveyed a near-apocalyptic sentiment, according to The Los Angeles Times.

“Here in Korea, back in the U.S. and all over the world, there is much more sadness and introspection than I expected,” the American Go Association president, Andrew Okun, told The Los Angeles Times . “I think people were guessing with their heads that AlphaGo had a good chance, but hoping with their hearts that Lee Sedol would win.”

Like Okun, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and co-founder Sergery Brin flew to Seoul to watch the decisive match.

Go is a very beautiful game and I think it teaches a lot about life, much more so than a game like chess," Brin said after the game, according to The Verge. "When you watch really great Go players play, it is like a thing of beauty. So I'm very excited that we've been able to instil that level of beauty inside a computer.”