20 years on from a computer beating a chess champion, artificial intelligence now looks to have finally mastered the board game Go.
In a major breakthrough, a computing system developed by Google researchers in the UK has beaten a top human player at the game of Go, the ancient Chinese board game that has long confounded AI programmers.
Machines have topped the best humans at most games held up as measures of human intellect, including chess, Scrabble, Othello, with IBM’s Watson recently beating humans in the TV quiz show Jeopardy!.
However, Go, a game 2500 years old and much more complex than chess and human grandmasters have maintained an edge over even the most agile computing systems. Many AI experts thought it would be at least another decade before AI could master the game.
Using black-and-white stones on a grid, players gain the upper hand by surrounding their opponents pieces with their own.
The rules are simpler than those of chess, but a player typically has a choice of 200 moves compared with about 20 in chess.
However, the breakthrough finally happeend this week when Google’s DeepMind division said its software had beaten its human rival five games to nil.
It happened faster than I thought,” says Rémi Coulom, the French researcher behind what was previously the world’s top artificially intelligent Go player.
DeepMind’s chief executive, Demis Hassabis, said its AlphaGo software followed a three-stage process, which began with making it analyse 30 million moves from games played by humans.
The achievement was announced to coincide with the publication of a paper, in the scientific journal Nature, detailing the techniques used.
Earlier on Wednesday, Facebook’s chief executive had said its own AI project had been “getting close” to beating humans at Go.