In a victory for artificial intelligence, Google’s computer program defeats Chinese master Go

The world’s best player in what may be mankind’s most complicated board game was defeated on Tuesday by Google software called AlphaGo, offering a glimpse of the promise of new technologies that mimic how the brain works.

HONG KONG – This doesn’t look good for humanity.

The world’s best player in what may be mankind’s most complicated board game was defeated by a Google computer program on Tuesday. Adding insult to a potentially deep existential wound, he was defeated at Go – a game that claims centuries of play by humans – in China, where the game was invented.

The human competitor, a 19-year-old Chinese national named Ke Jie, and the computer are only one-third through their three-game match this week. And the contest does little to prove that the software can soothe an angry co-worker, write a decent poem, raise a well-rounded child, or perform any number of distinctly human tasks.

But the victory of software called AlphaGo showed another way to develop computers to outperform humans at very complex tasks, and it offered a glimpse of the promise of new technologies that mimic the workings of the brain.

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AlphaGo’s success comes at a time when researchers are exploring the potential of artificial intelligence to do everything from driving cars to writing legal documents – a trend that has some serious thinkers wondering what to do when computers regularly replace humans in the workplace.

“Last year was still quite human when it was playing,” Ke said after the game. “But this year he has become like a Go god.”

Perhaps equally remarkable, the victory came in China, a rising power in the field of artificial intelligence that is increasingly seen as an American rival. Chinese officials may have unwittingly shown their conflicting sentiments over the victory of US-backed software, by cutting off live streams of the contest on the mainland even as state media promoted the intelligence artificial.

AlphaGo – which was developed by DeepMind, the artificial intelligence arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet – has previously speculated about the creativity of a computer program. Since last year, when he beat a highly ranked South Korean player in Go, he has changed the way top masters play the game. Players have praised the technology’s ability to perform unorthodox moves and to challenge the fundamental assumptions of a game that draws on thousands of years of tradition.

In the first game, Ke performed several moves that commentators said were reminiscent of AlphaGo’s style. Dressed in a blue tie and thick-rimmed black glasses, boy Ke kept things close at first. By AlphaGo’s own assessment, he only had a big statistical advantage after the 50th move, according to a DeepMind co-founder, Demis Hassabis.

Ke, who smiled and shook his head as AlphaGo finished the game, said afterwards that it was a “bitter smile”. After finishing this week’s game, he said, he would focus more on playing against human opponents, noting that the gap between humans and computers was getting too big. He would treat the software more like a teacher, he said, to get inspired and come up with new ideas about movements.

“AlphaGo is improving too fast,” he said in a post-match press conference. “AlphaGo is like a different player this year compared to last year.”

Go, in which two players compete for control of a board using black and white pieces called stones, is considered complex due to the large number of possible moves. Even supercomputers cannot simply calculate all possible moves, which is a big challenge for the creators of AlphaGo.

Instead, AlphaGo relies on new techniques that help it learn from experience playing a large number of games. This time, Hassabis said, a new approach allowed AlphaGo to learn more by playing games against itself. In the future, computer scientists hope to use similar techniques to do many things, including improving basic scientific research and diagnosing diseases.

AlphaGo’s victory represents a marketing success for Google and Alphabet. The Mountain View, Calif.-based software company pulled out of mainland China seven years ago rather than submit to the country’s censorship demands. But he continued to show interest in the vast market, which has the largest population of internet users in the world.

Notably, the Go match was held in the city of Wuzhen, where China’s internet authorities hold an annual cyberspace regulation conference.

Gordon K. Morehouse