Odds are shifting in man-vs.-machine Go match

Image: Go match
European Go champion Fan Hui holds his head in frustration during a match against Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo program. (Credit: Google via YouTube)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Both sides in next month’s big $1 million AI-vs.-human Go match say they’re confident they’ll prevail. But Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo program has a secret weapon: It’s expanding its knowledge of the game exponentially during the buildup to the five-game match against top-ranked player Lee Sedol in Seoul, South Korea.

Last month, researchers at Google DeepMind shook up the Go world with news that its artificial intelligence program bested a European champion, Fan Hui, without being given any advantage to start with. The research, published in Nature, lays out a potentially more powerful approach to AI that combines deep learning with reinforcement learning.

Next month’s match against Sedol could be as big for fans of Go (and followers of AI research) as IBM’s Deep Blue victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov was in 1997. The match will be streamed live from Seoul via You Tube from March 9 to 15.

“This really is our Deep Blue moment,” Demis Hassabis, Google DeepMind’s president of engineering, said on Feb. 13 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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