A 'Brief' History of Game AI Up To AlphaGo, Part 1


This is the first part of'A Brief History of Game AI Up to AlphaGo'. Part 2 is here and part 3 is here. In this part, we shall cover the birth of AI and the very first game-playing AI programs to run on digital computers. On March 9th of 2016, a historic milestone for AI was reached when the Google-engineered program AlphaGo defeated the world-class Go champion Lee Sedol. Go is a two-player strategy board game like Chess, but the larger number of possible moves and difficulty of evaluation make Go the harder problem for AI.

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First was the Monte Carlo tree search, an algorithm that rather than attempting to examine all possible future moves instead tests a sparse selection of them, combining their value in a sophisticated way to get a better estimate of a move's quality. The second was the (re)discovery of deep networks, a contemporary incarnation of neural networks that had been experimented with since the 1960s, but which was now cheaper, more powerful, and equipped with huge amounts of data with which to train the learning algorithms. The combination of these techniques saw a drastic improvement in Go-playing programs, and ultimately Google DeepMind's AlphaGo program beat Go world champion Lee Sedol in March 2016. Now that Go has fallen, where do we go from here? Following Kasparov's defeat in 1997, scientists considered that the challenge for AI was not to conquer some cerebral game.

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PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY – Last month, AlphaGo, a computer program specially designed to play the game go, caused shock waves among aficionados when it defeated Lee Sidol, one of the world's top-ranked professional players, winning a five-game tournament by a score of 4-1. Why, you may ask, is that news? Twenty years have passed since the IBM computer Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and we all know computers have improved since then. But Deep Blue won through sheer computing power, using its ability to calculate the outcomes of more moves to a deeper level than even a world champion can. Go is played on a far larger board (19 by 19 squares, compared to eight by eight for chess) and has more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe, so raw computing power was unlikely to beat a human with a strong intuitive sense of the best moves.

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PBS NewsHour

Garry Kasparov plays a move against Deep Blue in their first game in Feb. 1996. Twenty-one years ago today, IBM computer Deep Blue famously beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov at his own game. While Deep Blue would go on to lose the full match, the event launched a long line of victories by artificial intelligence (AI) over humans in gaming. Since Deep Blue's initial triumph, many computer systems have challenged humans in other complicated games, like Go and poker. Games might seem a trivial way to measure AI.