The future is here: A professional-level go AI

Thursday, January 28 2016, 7:30 AM in Tokyo, Japan.

I wake up to my alarm clock as usual, preparing to go to the Nihon Ki-in headquarters in Ichigaya for my first day as an official game transcriber. Before my morning shower, I turn on my computer and check the news headlines of the day:

>Game Over? AlphaGo Beats Pro 5-0 in Major AI Advance


“Maybe it was a low-handicap match?” *reads a bit* “Wait, seems that’s not it, they were even games by Chinese rules.”

“…No, it’s not April 1st yet.”

“Maybe it’s a marketing ruse?”

>Nature: Go players react to computer defeat

“No, that’s not it either, they have too many important people commenting on the match.”


“Wow, I really am living in the future.”

Just a few weeks ago, I gave a television interview to Yle, Finland’s national public-broadcasting company, confidently saying that go-playing AI would definitely catch up to top human players, but that it might yet take dozens of years. It seems I cannot help but correct my statement.

Fan Hui, a Chinese professional 2 dan now living in France, is perhaps not at the very top of the go world, but he is reasonably high up there. A go-playing AI defeating him 5-0 surely implies a playing strength comparable to professional players. In Fan Hui’s defense, too, the five games played were perhaps not the best show of his skill. Apparently five unofficial matches were also played, which Google’s AlphaGo won 3-2.

In March 2016, AlphaGo is set to play against Lee Sedol, widely considered the current strongest human player. My personal assessment is that Lee Sedol will still win the match, with 4-1 or 5-0 sounding like plausible outcomes. However, AlphaGo’s match with Fan Hui was played in October 2015, and they say the AI is constantly getting stronger, so I might yet have to correct myself about this prediction as well… And even if Lee Sedol wins the match, in a year or two the situation may get reversed anyway.

The news was noticed in Japanese professional circles as well. When I was setting up the computer for transcribing, I overheard two professionals talking along the lines of “Did you read the news?” “Yes, it seems it was a Chinese professional, I wonder how strong he is.”

Finally, in case the reader is interested in what I thought of AlphaGo’s play, here are some comments jotted down by me about the first game in the five-game series! Enjoy!


Download SGF


PS. Personally, I’m all for go-playing AI getting stronger than humans. Once the AI get strong enough that they don’t copy human tactics anymore, we’re really getting to find out what the game is about!

Sente gains nothing, part 2: Fair exhanges

When estimating the score of an unfinished game, it is useful to know how to value unfinished territories fairly. Many amateur players prefer not to go through the effort, and instead spend their time in locating the largest move on the board. I would however argue that without evaluating the board position at all, the largest move will be challenging to find.

Continue reading “Sente gains nothing, part 2: Fair exhanges”

Sente gains nothing: An endgame view

This text begins a series of blog posts with a common theme: that of explaining what the proverb “sente gains nothing” means. My design is to start the explanation from easier, endgame-technical examples and little by little work towards more difficult concepts. If everything goes according to plan, at the end of the series I should have conveyed the idea of the proverb without (hopefully) having to explain it in abstract terms at all! (Having read essays on the art of human rationality on LessWrong, I wanted to try a similar concept on Go.)

At the same time, through the series I hope to improve on my writing skills. If the blog posts turn out well, I will probably refine them further into a part of an endgame theory book I have been planning for some time.

For readers unfamiliar with the terminology: please bear with me! I will also explain the technical meanings of sente and its opposite, gote in following posts.

Continue reading “Sente gains nothing: An endgame view”