Google has reached a major artificial intelligence milestone

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It’s been almost two decades since IBM taught a computer to be a master at chess, which is regarded as one of the most-important artificial intelligence milestones in history, and now Google has reached a similarly important milestone by teaching a computer to be a master at Go. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Go is an ancient Chinese board game that’s even harder than chess, which is why it’s such a big deal that Google-owned DeepMind has developed an artificial intelligence that’s capable of beating one of the top Go players in the world. The achievement is even more impressive when you consider the fact that it came ten years sooner than was previously expected. 

When Gary Kasparov lost to chess computer Deep Blue in 1997, IBM marked a milestone in the history of artificial intelligence. On Wednesday, in a research paper released in Nature, Google earned its own position in the history books, with the announcement that its subsidiary DeepMind has built a system capable of beating the best human players in the world at the east Asian board game Go. Go, a game that involves placing black or white tiles on a 19×19 board and trying to remove your opponents’, is far more difficult for a computer to master than a game such as chess. DeepMind’s software, AlphaGo, successfully beat the three-time European Go champion Fan Hui 5–0 in a series of games at the company’s headquarters in King’s Cross last October. Dr Tanguy Chouard, a senior editor at Nature who attended the matches as part of the review process, described the victory as “really chilling to watch”. “It was one of the most exciting moments of my career,” he added. “But with the usual mixed feelings … in the quiet room downstairs, one couldn’t help but root for the poor human being beaten.” It’s the first such victory for a computer program, and it came a decade before anyone expected it. As recently as 2014, Rémi Coulom, developer of the previous leading Go game AI, Crazy Stone, had predicted that it would take 10 more years for a machine to win against a top-rated human player without a handicap.

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