Friday, March 11, 2016

The emergence of a new intelligence

At first, Fan Hui thought the move was rather odd. But then he saw its beauty.

“It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move,” he says. “So beautiful.” It’s a word he keeps repeating. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

The move in question was the 37th in the second game of the historic Go match between Lee Sedol, one of the world’s top players, and AlphaGo, an artificially intelligent computing system built by researchers at Google. Inside the towering Four Seasons hotel in downtown Seoul, the game was approaching the end of its first hour when AlphaGo instructed its human assistant to place a black stone in a largely open area on the right-hand side of the 19-by-19 grid that defines this ancient game. And just about everyone was shocked.

“That’s a very strange move,” said one of the match’s English language commentators, who is himself a very talented Go player. Then the other chuckled and said: “I thought it was a mistake.” But perhaps no one was more surprised than Lee Sedol, who stood up and left the match room. “He had to go wash his face or something—just to recover,” said the first commentator.

Even after Lee Sedol returned to the table, he didn’t quite know what to do, spending nearly 15 minutes considering his next play. AlphaGo’s move didn’t seem to connect with what had come before. In essence, the machine was abandoning a group of stones on the lower half of the board to make a play in a different area. AlphaGo placed its black stone just beneath a single white stone played earlier by Lee Sedol, and though the move may have made sense in another situation, it was completely unexpected in that particular place at that particular time—a surprise all the more remarkable when you consider that people have been playing Go for more than 2,500 years. The commentators couldn’t even begin to evaluate the merits of the move.

Then, over the next three hours, AlphaGo went on to win the game, taking a two-games-to-none lead in this best-of-five contest. ...

Rather unexpectedly, I felt this sadness as the match ended and I walked towards the post-game press conference. ... Oh-hyoung Kwon, a Korean who helps run a startup incubator in Seoul, later told me that he experienced that same sadness—not because Lee Sedol was a fellow Korean but because he was a fellow human. Kwon even went so far as to say that he is now more aware of the potential for machines to break free from the control of humans, echoing words we’ve long heard from people like Elon Musk and Sam Altman. “There was an inflection point for all human beings,” he said of AlphaGo’s win. “It made us realize that AI is really near us—and realize the dangers of it too.”
--Cade Metz, Wired, on childhood's end