AI program wins $1 million prize in Go showdown

Image: Lee Sedol and Go board
South Korean champion Lee Sedol (upper right) contemplates a move during his game against Google DeepMind’st AlphaGo artificial intelligence program. (Credit: Google DeepMind via YouTube)

Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence program will take home the $1 million prize after winning the first three games in its Go showdown with South Korean champion Lee Sedol.

“Folks, you saw history made here today,” webcast host Chris Garlock said.

But today’s third win isn’t the end of the historic match in Seoul: The last two games will still be played, with Lee hoping to demonstrate that it’s possible for a human to beat the computer program.

“I think it’s going to be tough going,” match commentator Michael Redmond said during today’s webcast. Lee was never able to achieve an advantage in the third game, which lasted more than four hours. More than 65,000 viewers watched the YouTube webcast at its peak.

After today’s game, DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis paid tribute to Lee, and particularly to the “really huge ko fight” that the champion executed during the endgame.

“To be honest, we are a bit stunned and speechless,” Hassabis told reporters. “Lee Sedol put up an incredible fight again.”

Lee apologized for his performance, and said he let the pressure get to him during the third game. “I should have shown a better outcome. … I kind of felt powerless,” he said.

The duel marks a milestone for AI, and for the millennia-old game of Go. Comparisons have been drawn to chess champion Garry Kasparov’s defeat in a 1997 match against IBM’s Deep Blue computer, and the triumph of IBM’s Watson computer over human champions in the “Jeopardy” TV quiz show.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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