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.
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 1 p.m. in South Korea on March 9th, Google will attempt to make history. A program called AlphaGo, designed by Google's DeepMind artificial intelligence team, will match wits with Lee Sedol, one of the greatest Go players in the world. Sodol and AlphaGo will play a series of matches over the course of five days. If AlphaGo wins, it will be the latest in artificial intelligence's mastery of human games. Checkers fell in 1994, chess in 1997, and Jeopardy in 2011.
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.