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Game-Changing AlphaGo

Many of us remember the legendary chess match between Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov. Deep Blue, the experimental thinking computer programed by IBM, just barely defeated the legendary chess grandmaster in a thrilling contest that has become a milestone in computer development. As impressive as that feat was the truth is it was accomplished through “brute force” programing. The computer essentially memorized thousands of moves and scenarios and picked its best potential move by using cross referencing algorithms. To put it another way, imagine you’re playing against someone who doesn’t know the rules to chess but keeps referencing a  massive book of diagrams that tells them which piece to move in every specific board combination.

Chess is one thing but despite its reputation as the ultimate intellectual game, there are others that are much more complex. One such strategy game was developed in ancient China and remains a popular competitive sport even today. I am talking, of course, about the game of Go. Go is played on a 19 by 19 square grid and involves placing pieces with the goal of surrounding your opponent’s pieces. Once a piece is set it can’t be moved. Until very recently no computer could master this game. It’s impossible to “brute force” process all possible moves because the number of possible variations is far far too large. This makes the recent defeat of Go grandmaster Lee Sedol all the more impressive and puzzling.

The Google DeepMind AI, named AlphaGo, defeated the professional Go master in a best of 5 game tournament with a prize of $1,000,000 on the line. Sedol, and the Go community at large, were amazed by the AI’s play. Most notably they were confused by some of its moves that deviated far from traditional strategy. For example in the second game AlphaGo placed a piece in an unoccupied part of the grid. Sedol had this to say about the move: “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move. So beautiful.” At first many assumed the move was a mistake or some kind of error. However over the next three hours AlphaGo went on to win the match.

And thus the game is changed forever. If you want to know more about AlphaGo here’s what the creators had to say about it (note: this video was made just before the historic match with Sedol):

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