200 Words on AlphaGo

mar '16

Originally written for a job application: "Describe something awesome in 200 words or less"

In 1996, for the last time, the world's greatest chess player, Kasparov, defeated a chess-playing supercomputer. In '97, after losing the inevitable rematch, he remarked on the "deep intelligence and creativity" in "Deep Blue"'s playing style.

Last week, the Man vs. Machine experiment was repeated with Go, a 4000 year-old game with simpler rules but much more vast in its complexity*. Lee Se-dol faced off with "AlphaGo" in exhibition matches watched by millions. He lost three games consecutively. Exuberant journalists welcomed our new robot overlords, and the singularity seemed only weeks away.

But in the fourth game AlphaGo erred and Lee transformed this blip into victory with a move that Go commentators described as "divine-inspired". For a golden moment balance and clarity were restored to a decades-old discussion: Skynet and HAL went unmentioned, and the immeasurable, indomitable creativity of the human spirit was the hero of the story once more.

Humanity is creating the universe's next intelligence. One board game at a time.

* If you were to write down the number of possible states of a chess board, this number would fit inside the equivalent Go number about 650 times left-to-right.