On Wednesday afternoon in the South Korean capital, Seoul, Lee Se-dol, the 33-year-old master of the ancient Asian board game Go, will sit down to defend humanity. On the other side of the table will be his opponent: Alphago, a programme built by Google subsidiary DeepMind which became, in October, the first machine to beat a professional human Go player, the European champion Fan Hui. That match proved that Alphago could hold its own against the best; this one will demonstrate whether "the best" have to relinquish that title entirely. Related: Google throws down the gauntlet. But can anyone beat its computer at Go? Lee, who is regularly ranked among the top three players alive, has been a Go professional for 21 years; Alphago won its first such match less than 21 weeks ago.
First went checkers, then fell chess. Now, a computer program has defeated the world's top player in the ancient east Asian board game of Go -- a major milestone for artificial intelligence that brings to a close the era of board games as benchmarks in computing. At the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, Google DeepMind's AlphaGo capped a 3-0 week on Saturday against Lee Sedol, a giant of the game. Lee and AlphaGo were to play again Sunday and Tuesday, but with AlphaGo having already clinched victory in the five-game match, the results are in and history has been made. It was a feat that experts had thought was still years away.
Today, inside the towering glass and steel Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Google will put the future of artificial intelligence to the test. At one o'clock in the afternoon local time, a digital Google creation will challenge one of the world's top players at the game of Go, the ancient Eastern pastime that's often compared to chess--though it's exponentially more complex. This Google machine is called AlphaGo, and to win, it must mimic not just the analytical skills of a human, but at least a bit of human intuition. Over the years, machines have topped the best humans at checkers, chess, Othello, Scrabble, Jeopardy!, and so many other contests of human intellect. But they haven't beat the very best at Go.
After a drawn-out battle, South Korea's Go grandmaster with 9-dan rank, Lee Sedol, lost his fifth game against Google's artificial intelligence (AI) program AlphaGo in Seoul on March 15, 2016. AlphaGo's win over one of the world's best players shocked the world's Go circle. Due to the complexity of the nature of Go, which requires intuition, creativity, and strategic thinking, it was believed that Go was the only board game that no computers could conquer. Hong Kong's Go champion, Lee Cheuk-leung, was surprised at the result of the fifth match, in which Lee Sedol had the upper hand in the first half of the game, but somehow lost to the computer eventually. Experts from the Go circle initially expected Lee Sedol to win all five games, but he ultimately lost four of them to the computer.
At the end of the fifth and final match, Lee Sedol sat back quietly in his chair in a conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul as the collected computer scientists celebrated around him. Lee, second only to fellow South Korean Lee Chang-Ho in international titles in the ancient Chinese board game of Go, put up a valiant fight against the machine, AlphaGo, created by Google's DeepMind division. AlphaGo had erred early on, but recovered to overpower the human and win the series four to one. Board games have been used since the early days of artificial intelligence research as ways to measure progress -- IBM's Deep Blue famously beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in New York in 1997 -- and AlphaGo's victory marks another significant milestone in the advancement of the technology. Go presents a far greater challenge to AI than chess.