Four hours is all it took for Google's DeepMind artificial intelligence program to learn everything there was to know about chess, The Telegraph reported Wednesday. DeepMind's AlphaZero program, which teaches itself from scratch, achieved "superhuman" knowledge of chess in less than the amount of time you'd spend, say, watching the extended version of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
In the 200th episode of The Life Scientific, Jim Al-Khalili finds out why Demis Hassabis wants to create artificial intelligence and use it to help humanity. Thinking about how to win at chess when he was a boy got Demis thinking about the process of thinking itself. Being able to program his first computer (a Sinclair Spectrum) felt miraculous. In computer chess, his two passions were combined. And a lifelong ambition to create artificial intelligence was born.
A computer that taught itself to play almost 50 video games including Space Invaders and Pong is being hailed as the pinnacle of artificial intelligence. But it is unlikely to spark the Terminator-like Armageddon predicted in recent months by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk (who provided early funding for the project) and physicist Stephen Hawking. Despite mastering more than half the classic Atari 2600 games, the program – deep Q-network (DQN), developed by DeepMind Technologies – struggled with more difficult challenges, such as, well, Pac-Man. "On the face of it, it looks trivial in the sense that these are games from the '80s and you can write solutions to them quite easily," said Dr Demis Hassabis, the vice-president of engineering at DeepMind, a British company acquired by a year ago for a reported £400m (US$650m). Never before has a computer taught itself how to do a range of complex operations, said Dr Hassabis, one of the company's co-founders.
A year on from its victory over Go star Lee Sedol, Google DeepMind is preparing a "festival" of exhibition matches for its board game-playing AI, AlphaGo, to see how far it has evolved in the last 12 months. Headlining the event will be a one-on-one match against the current number one player of the ancient Asian game, 19-year-old Chinese professional Ke Jie. DeepMind has had its eye on this match since even before AlphaGo beat Lee. On the eve of his trip to Seoul in March 2016, the company's co-founder, Demis Hassabis, told the Guardian: "There's a young kid in China who's very, very strong, who might want to play us." As well as the one-on-one match with Jie, which will be played over the course of three games, AlphaGo will take part in two other games with slightly odder formats.