In March 2016, AlphaGo beat Lee Sodol, one of the world’s top players of the Chinese game Go, by 4-1, marking the end of what was probably the last great board game AI had to conquer.
What makes Go a particularly difficult problem for computers to at least in the traditional (simplistic) approach is that the number of possible combination moves number more than the atoms in the universe. So it’s impossible to brute force it with the entirety of the computing power we have. Thus it was a good problem for finding alternative approaches.
But why am I writing about something about that happened more than 4 years ago and is widely known?
Well. I just watched the AlphaGo – The Movie, a documentary about the match with Lee Sodol. It’s so good, I really recommend you go watch it.
Anyone who knows me knows I believe in the inevitability of AI, in that eventually in all tasks it’ll be better than humans. I’ve never waived in this belief.
Watching this documentary though I found myself rooting for Lee to beat the machine, such that when he got his one victory, I broke down in tears and cheered. I really wanted it that humans weren’t completely defeated.
Despite my belief that AI will prevail over most in the end, I think there’s still a part of me that wants to believe in human exceptionalism. That in the end there’s something that machines can’t replicate. Some spark or magic. That exceptionalism was well presented in the documentary in that one victory. Really, watch the documentary.
Of course that exceptionalism was over come in the next version of the program, but for one shining moment we humans proved that a machine would never completely defeat us.
If you put aside the structural issues around bias, jobs and power, I think that’s why as AI gets better and better at tasks that were previously the exclusive purview of human beings there’s an almost visceral reaction of first scepticism then deep fear. Because if a machine, or algorithm, can do it are we as human being really as exceptional/special as we think we are? Peace!!!