Last year, Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo beat a Korean Go Master, and it was big news. Today the news is even bigger – AlphaGo beat the best human Go player in the world, 19-year-old Ke Jie of China.
This is a big deal because unlike Chess, you can’t simply brute-force all possible moves your Go opponent might make, and find the optimal move to counter whatever she may be doing. That’s why Chess programs have been kicking my butt since I was 12, but computers playing Go is a recent thing.
Instead, AlphaGo’s deep learning algorithms trains itself by playing games against itself, and learning as it goes which sorts of patterns result in advantages. Just like with humans, practice makes perfect – and it can practice 24/7. Its play is now described as very human-like, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising because finding patterns given training data is pretty much all that our brain does. The difference is a computer never forgets a pattern it’s learned – well, unless you pull its plug!
Does this mean artificial intelligence is that much closer to taking over the world and enslaving its human creators? Well, yes and no. AI is still limited to learning how to get really good at very narrow problems – like keeping a car within its lane, figuring out what temperature you’d like your house to be at, or playing Go. Think of them as idiot savants, except they’re even less than idiots – they know nothing other than the data you’ve trained them with, and only within the context of the objective you’ve given them. But like all technology, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands – a human who trains an AI with some nefarious cyber-warfare goal could do a number on humanity, even today.