Most people are familiar with the story and background behind Deep Blue, and AIs have been mastering quizzes, board games and computer games for a decades. But there's always been one that has proven to be trickier than the rest: the ancient board game of Go.
Go's a fascinating game, and the many millions of possible permutations makes things tricky for a computer. But Google, of all companies, has finally conquered that last barrier by slapping the reigning three-time European Go champion around the board.
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It should be stressed that Fan Hui isn't just the current European Go champion, but the three-time reigning champion. According to Google's Research blog, Hui has devoted his life to the ancient Chinese conundrum since he was 12.
Didn't stop AlphaGo — Google's plain name for their bot — from flogging Hui 5-0, mind you.
Flush from their success, Google's pitting AlphaGo against an even stronger foe: Lee Sedol. Sedol's considered the best Go player in the world over the last decade, so it'll be thrilling to see how well AlphaGo fares against what is clearly a substantial step up in opposition.
"We are thrilled to have mastered Go and thus achieved one of the grand challenges of AI," Google bragged. "However, the most significant aspect of all this for us is that AlphaGo isn’t just an 'expert' system built with hand-crafted rules, but instead uses general machine learning techniques to allow it to improve itself, just by watching and playing games."
"While games are the perfect platform for developing and testing AI algorithms quickly and efficiently, ultimately we want to apply these techniques to important real-world problems. Because the methods we have used are general purpose, our hope is that one day they could be extended to help us address some of society’s toughest and most pressing problems, from climate modelling to complex disease analysis."
Personally, it'd be cool if Google took AlphaGo and released it as a free mobile app. But then I watched the entirety of Hikaru No Go — it's an anime about, you guessed it, Go — and its specials three times over, so maybe that's just me.