Playing against a top Go player, Google DeepMind's AlphaGo artificial-intelligence program has puzzled commentators with moves that are often described as "beautiful," but do not fit into the usual human style of play. Artificial-intelligence experts think these moves reflect a key AI strength of AlphaGo, its ability to learn from its experience. Such moves cannot be produced by just incorporating human knowledge, said Doina Precup, associate professor in the School of Computer Science at McGill University in Quebec, in an email interview. "AlphaGo represents not only a machine that thinks, but one that can learn and strategize," agreed Howard Yu, professor of strategic management and innovation at IMD business school. AlphaGo won three games consecutively against Lee Se-dol last week in Seoul, securing the tournament and US$1 million in prize money that Google plans to give to charities.
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.
"Learning", "thinking", "intelligence", even "cognition"… Such words were once reserved for humans (and to a lesser extent, other highly complex animals), but have now seemingly been extended to a "species" of machines, machines infused with artificial intelligence or "AI". In October 2015, a computer program developed by Google DeepMind, named AlphaGo, defeated the incumbent European champion at the complex ancient Chinese board game of Go. In March 2016, AlphaGo went on to defeat the world champion, Lee Sedol. This seminal moment caught the world's attention, the media have since been incessantly covering every AI-related story, and companies from all walks of life have since been on a mission to add "artificial intelligence" to their business description. At Platinum we have been closely following the major technological trends for many years.
The world's most advanced poker bot just trounced all comers at a tournament last weekend in Hainan, an island province in southern China. A previous version of the bot defeated several top professional players in a tournament held at a Pittsburgh casino over several weeks this January. Called Libratus, it was developed by Tuomas Sandholm, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in machine learning and game theory, along with one of his students, Noam Brown. The feat was significant because poker is fundamentally different from the types of games AI researchers have tackled previously. Because an opponent's cards are hidden from view, playing well requires extremely complex strategizing (see "Why Poker Is a Big Deal for Artificial Intelligence").
In the first of several games being held in China this week, a revamped AlphaGo defeated Ke Jie, a Chinese grandmaster who currently ranks as the game's number one player. Besides demonstrating the software's mastery over the abstract and intuitive board game, the contest reveals how the machine-learning techniques that underpin AlphaGo are developing. DeepMind's Go Summit, held in the picturesque water town of Wuhzen, is also a significant event for its parent company, Alphabet. The company's dealings in China have been fraught ever since Google left the country, in 2010, in protest over censorship. And beyond this, it shows how strong the appetite for cutting-edge artificial intelligence is becoming in that country.