YouTube will stream live the five games between Google’s AlphaGo AI and the world champion at Go, Lee Sedol. It has been said for decades that true AI will arrive when it can finally beat humans at Go, and Google’s AI may be able to achieve that soon. The first game will begin today at 11pm ET on YouTube. The next four will follow over the next few days.
Go is a 2,500 year old game, played mostly in Asia, and it requires a high level of intuition as well as discipline from the player. The intuition requirement has made creating a Go AI so challenging in the past because it’s one of the human capabilities that machines haven’t come close to replicating well enough yet.
Intuition is sort of a “shortcut” our brain uses to calculate many possibilities in a split second and then give us a “good enough answer” to a certain problem that needs to be solved quickly. Until recently, AIs hadn’t been built like that. Instead, they had to calculate all the possible moves for a certain number of steps into the game. Then the AI would pick the best move out of those.
This is how chess AI has worked, for instance, as when IBM’s Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov. However, unlike chess, which can have 20-30 possible moves at any given time, Go players have about ten times as many options. This quickly makes Go a much more complex game for a machine, because all of those possibilities need to be multiplied at each step. This means that a Go AI can’t beat a human by trying to “bruteforce” all potential future moves and then picking the best one.
With AlphaGo, Google has “taught” the AI 30 million games of Go, from which the AI “learned” how to play well, much like a human would. This gave AlphaGo a 57 percent chance to predict a human move. However, this meant it could still be beaten by humans. To improve it further, Google matched AlphaGo against itself, each version trying to beat the other, and each learning from the other’s mistakes and successes, until it evolved much further.
Earlier this year, AlphaGo managed to beat the European champion at Go, in five matches out of five. However, the world Go champion is supposed to be a much better player because Go is very popular in China, so he's been training with great players since childhood.
Chances are that Google’s AlphaGo will still end up beating him, because it’s likely that the AI has already improved dramatically since he beat the European champion 5-0. That’s how computers work, and even if Lee Sedol manages to beat it now at least 3 times out of 5, it's probably only a matter of time before the AI catches up.
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu.