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.
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.
After beating IBM's Deep Blue computer in a six-game chess match in 1996, Garry Kasparov played a rematch a year later that we called the "Slaughter on 7th Avenue". Catastrophe overtook the best chess mind of his era after Deep Blue played chess like no human. Prior to the game Garry Kasparov told New Scientist that Go's clock was ticking, but the scale of the defeat nevertheless came as a shock, not least to Sedol. The next frontier for AI in games is Starcraft 2, a space-war strategy game played in real time.