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How the demon plays Go: AI advances that will render us obsolete

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Elon Musk once described the sensational advances in artificial intelligence as “summoning the demon”. Boy, how the demon can play Go.

The AI company DeepMind announced last week it had developed an algorithm capable of excelling at the ancient Chinese board game. The big deal is that this algorithm, called AlphaGo Zero, is completely self-taught. It was armed only with the rules of the game — and zero human input.

AlphaGo, its predecessor, was trained on data from thousands of games played by human competitors. The two algorithms went to war, and AGZ triumphed 100-nil. In other words — put this up in neon lights — disregarding human intellect allowed AGZ to become a supreme exponent of its art.

While DeepMind is the outfit most likely to feed Mr Musk’s fevered nightmares, machine autonomy is on the rise elsewhere. In January, researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University unveiled an algorithm capable of beating the best human poker players. The machine, called Libratus, racked up nearly $2m in chips against top-ranked professionals of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em, a challenging version of the card game. Flesh-and-blood rivals described being outbluffed by a machine as “demoralising”. Again, Libratus improved its game by detecting and patching its own weaknesses, rather than borrowing from human intuition.

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