It has been 41 years since the reclusive American genius, World Champion chess grandmaster, crushed a computer named Greenblatt without breaking even a mental sweat — but Bobby Fischer never came up against this kind of artificial intelligence (AI). Since Fischer passed away in 2008, we will never know how he might have fared.
A Chinese developed AI program, Golaxy, defeated the world’s second-ranked Go player on Friday afternoon, almost a year after the same player lost to AlphaGo, an AI project backed by Google, three games to zero.
Go, or Weiqi, is an ancient and incredibly complex two player board game whose goal is to capture as much territory as possible by placing black or white stones on a 19-by-19 grid. There are more possible board configurations in Go than there are atoms in the known universe. In recent years, few players have been as dominant as Ke Jie of China, who has been playing Go professionally since the age of 10.
Funded by Beijing-based investment firm NCF Group, Golaxy is expected to rival or even surpass its predecessor, AlphaGo.
Golaxy can reach the same level of mastery as AlphaGo from playing much fewer games, and it reduces the amount of resources required to train human players, according to Golaxy chairman Jin Xing. “It can also play different kinds of games. For example, it can play a Go game where it doesn’t let up once it has established an advantage,” Jin said at a press conference. “This goes well beyond the AlphaGo framework.”
2017’s competition between Ke and AlphaGo was one of China’s most talked-about news events for the year, attracting hundreds of millions of views on social media and bringing considerable attention to the game, both in China and internationally. On Netflix, you can now find a documentary about the history of AlphaGo, which has since “retired” from competition.
There are a handful of other Chinese-developed Go AI programs from companies such as internet giants Alibaba and Tencent. Tencent’s program, nicknamed “Fine Art,” won the 2017 Computer Go UEC Cup, a prestigious competition for Go programs held annually in Tokyo, and also defeated Ke in January of this year. On Monday, Fine Art was named the official training program for the Chinese national Go team.
“2017 marks the first year of learning Go from artificial intelligence,” Li Zhe, a Go professional, wrote in a commentary in October 2017. He added that because of rapidly evolving AI technology, the entire game is likely to change as people adjust to playing styles they might never have seen before, or not have considered previously.
“Thanks to AI, Go and the culture surrounding it have a new tool,” Li said. “How to utilize AI to its full potential is now a critical question to competitive players.”
Go has long since been the military strategic game of choice for China. With their rapid rise in military capabilities and technology, it seems almost poetic that the modern masters of this ancient game are now being bested and trained by the fruits of their great leaps forward in technology.
Earlier in 2018 Chinese media reported that the PLA had selected 120 specialists to work at Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, a renowned research institute, to help drive the development of artificial intelligence for military purposes. The Academy now boasts more than 95% of its researchers having PhDs in AI.
Chinese media claimed that Beijing is looking to become a military-technical superpower, and catch up with the US armed forces. It looks like they might have a little more help — literally coming online — soon.
Featured Image Courtesy of Weibo