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:
“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?”
“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!
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!