World Go champ beaten twice by AI – can he redeem himself?

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All smiles before the match: Google Deepmind head Demis Hassabis (left) shakes hands with South Korean professional Go player Lee Se-Dol (right) before the second match. – Google via Getty Images

World Go champion Lee Se-dol will have to pull out all the stops if he’s to beat Google Deepmind’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo in their five-game series.

Currently down two-nil, the third match will be played tomorrow on Lee’s home turf, South Korea, at 1pm local time. If he loses, the series goes to AlphaGo. And the way the program played yesterday, Lee has his work cut out for him.

“Yesterday I was surprised but today it’s more than that,” said Lee in a press conference post-match.

“I am speechless.

“I admit that it was a very clear loss on my part. From the very beginning of the game I did not feel like there was a point that I was leading.”

The program managed victory after a long, tight match, which went for nearly four and a half hours.

Lee conceded defeat during overtime. His ability to hang on for so long is “testament to Lee Se-dol’s incredible skills”, said Deepmind chief Demis Hassabis, after the match. 

Beating humans at the ancient Chinese board game Go is the pinnacle for AI researchers. The aim is to secure territory. Players place black and white stones on a 19 x 19 grid, and when a stone is surrounded by the opponent’s stones, it is taken off the board.

Once a player has covered 50% of the board, they win. And players can resign if they wish.

Because there are so many potential spots to place a stone with each move, the amount of processing power required by a computer to run through them all is simply not possible with today’s technology – which is why it’s such an attractive problem for AI.

After defeating European Go champion Fan Hui five-nil last year, the challenge was set: could AlphaGo beat the world Go champion?

Yesterday, the program played aggressively. “We’re very pleased that AlphaGo played some quite surprising and beautiful moves, according to the commentators, which was amazing to see,” Hassabis said.

The grand prize (aside from bragging rights) is US$1 million. If AlphaGo wins, that money will be donated to charity.

How will AlphaGo fare tomorrow? Will AI take its place above the best Go mind humans can offer? The match will be streamed live from Seoul from 1pm local time (3pm AEDT, 4am UTC, 11pm EST) – you can watch it all below.

Related reading:
All systems Go! But what is it like to play against a computer?

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