The AlphaGo AI beat Lee Sedol in the first of five games

Machine versus a man

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

It’s 1-0 to the machines. The world’s best player of the ancient Chinese board game Go squared off against AlphaGo, the latest artificial intelligence-based opponent from my friends at AI company DeepMind.

Lee Sedol is pitting his wits against the machine in a match comprising 5 games in Seoul, South Korea, with a $1 million prize at stake.

He lost the first game today. I believe he will lose the match and, for the first time in history, we’ll be able to say that computers are better than people at what is generally considered to be the world’s most challenging board game.

Does AlphaGo’s ability signify that machines are on the cusp of human-like intelligence?

Intelligence is a slippery concept, but it is possible to break the requirements for an advanced, human-level AI into three main challenges: how it plans sequences of actions to achieve objectives; how it models its environment; and its ability to reflect on its environment and behaviour.

Three challenges

We are getting better at developing planning algorithms that are remarkably efficient and fast and it doesn’t look as if this requirement will be a bottleneck in the race to develop advanced AI.

We are also getting better at building systems capable of modelling challenging environments, but building a rich representation of the natural world, which such an AI would need, is a much bigger problem.

Despite the complexity of Go and the subtlety of recognising promising positions of pieces on a 19×19 playing …

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