AlphaGo

“Don’t blame you,” said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second later.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been trying to break my habit of wasting time sitting around watching a bunch of YouTube videos after work. I should break this habit by writing, or reading, or riding my bike – but I am so damn tired and need to decompress before doing anything even vaguely useful. So I try to at least watch one thing – a movie or something like that (like one off my Criterion Channel List) instead of a series of short things. You know how it goes – you see the clickbate description and think “I HAVE to watch that” but then a half hour later you can’t even remember what it was that you watched.

So tonight my son walked in and asked if I’d seen AlphaGo and I said I had no idea. It is a documentary, on YouTube, but complete and in the whole. So I watched it and it was good… and interesting… and maybe even a little educational.

It is the story of a group of AI computer developers attempting to design a system that plays the ancient game of Go (the oldest board game in continuous play in history – at least on earth).

I played a little Go when I was younger – though I was always a chess player first and foremost (I gave up chess in college when I began to give a damn about how well I played. That made the game too stressful). Then, a few years ago, I read about people trying to program a computer to play Go. They said it was impossible – they considered the game too simple, too complex, and too subtle for digital mastery.

But now, using neural nets, AI, and machine learning they have done it.

The documentary is about a challenge between the system AlphaGo and the world’s best player – best of five.

It is a very interesting lesson on the rise of the machines and the promise/danger of sophisticated AI.

But the best part is the glimpse into the character of the humans. There are some fascinating people involved. Especially Lee Sedol, the Go master as he wrestles with the pressure of not playing for himself, or his country, but for his species.

Good stuff.

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