Human v. AI: Go! Program beats world super champion at ancient Chinese game 3-0

A still from a video by YouTube user / DeepMind
The Go-playing AlphaGo program has defeated South Korea’s Lee Se-dol, an 18-time world champion in the 2500-year-old Chinese game. The AI won three straight games out of five planned.

Go involves two players, a board, and black and white “stones.” The aim is for a player to surround more territory on the board than their opponent. The game has long been seen as the hardest for AI developers to crack, as its rules are simple, and possible moves virtually endless.

AlphaGo is the first AI that has shown significant progress in beating a human opponent. The program had scored its last win in January, when it beat three-time European Go champion Fan Hui.

This time, however, the AI was even more successful, racking up three straight victories out of five against 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol in Seoul.

What was particularly impressive about the third game, is that it included the so-called ‘ko’ – tricky situations it’s not easy to find a way out of.

The program was created by DeepMind, a UK group bought by Google two years ago.

“To be honest we are a bit stunned and speechless. AlphaGo can compute tens of thousands of positions a second, but it’s amazing that Lee Se-dol is able to compete with that and push AlphaGo to the limit.

We came here to challenge Lee Se-dol because we wanted to see what AlphaGo was capable of, and his amazing genius and creative skills have done that,” DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis told journalists after the AI’s victory.

“Go is a very beautiful game and I think it teaches a lot about life, much more so than a game like chess. When you watch really great Go players play, it is like a thing of beauty. So I’m very excited that we’ve been able to instill that level of beauty inside a computer,” Google co-founder and Alphabet president Sergey Brin said after the match.

Lee Se-dol said he didn’t think he stood a chance in the third game. He is set to play two more games with AlphaGo, despite having already missed out on the $1 million victory purse that had been on the table.

“I do apologize for not being able to satisfy people’s expectations,” Lee said.

“I have extensive experience in playing Go but there was never a case where I was under this much pressure … and I was incapable of overcoming it,” he added.