The manuscript titled "AlphaGo, deep learning, and the future of the human microscopist" in this month's issue of the Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine1 describes the triumph of Google's (Mountain View, California) artificial intelligence (AI) program, AlphaGo, which beat the 18-time world champion of Go, an ancient Chinese board game far more complex than chess. The authors have hypothesized that the development of intuition and creativity combined with the raw computing of AI heralds an age where well-designed and well-executed AI algorithms can solve complex medical problems, including the interpretation of diagnostic images, thereby replacing the microscopist. Of note, in a prior work, the microscope was predicted to have a 75% chance of remaining in use for another 144 years.2 To support their hypothesis, the authors presented recent studies that compared the performance of nontraditional interpreters to those of experienced pathologists, in making accurate diagnoses (note: 1 author disclosed a significant financial interest in an AI company). One study examined the potential of using pigeons (yes, pigeons) for medical image studies,3 wherein the pigeons engaged in a matching game of completely benign and unambiguously malignant breast histology images.
In 1943, at the height of World War II, the U.S. military hired an audacious psychologist named B.F. Skinner to develop pigeon-guided missiles. These were the early days of munitions guidance technology, and the Allies were apparently quite desperate to find more reliable ways to get missiles to hit their targets.
In the next few days, humanity's ego is likely to take another hit when the world champion of the ancient Chinese game Go is beaten by a computer. Currently Lee Sedol – the Roger Federer of Go – has lost two matches to Google's AlphaGo program in their best-of-five series. If AlphaGo wins just one more of the remaining three matches, humanity will again be vanquished. Back in 1979, the newly crowned world champion of backgammon, Luigi Villa, lost to the BKG 9.8 program seven games to one in a challenge match in Monte Carlo. In 1994, the Chinook program was declared "Man-Machine World Champion" at checkers in a match against the legendary world champion Marion Tinsley after six drawn games.
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.
God moves the player, he in turn the piece. But what god beyond God begins the round Of dust and time and sleep and agony? As I write this column, a computer program called AlphaGo is beating the professional go player Lee Sedol at a highly publicized tournament in Seoul. Sedol is among the top three players in the world, having attained the highest rank of nine dan. The victory over one of humanity's best representatives of this very old and traditional board game is a crushing 4 to 1, with one more game to come.