AlphaGo gets first blood in historic Go battle with Lee Sedol

9 Mar 2016

In the first of a series of matches with Go champion Lee Sedol, Google’s DeepMind AI program, AlphaGo, has drawn first blood, narrowly beating the human world champion.

Last January, Google announced it had created AlphaGo, a form of AI that it believed would be the best in the world at the board game Go, often considered the most challenging game to create an AI program for.

The difficulty lies in the fact, in a game like chess, there are 20 possible moves for the average position, which is complex in itself, but in Go, the number of possibilities increases to 10 times that number.

Last month, however, the Google DeepMind team said it wanted to test AlphaGo against the world’s best live on YouTube, that being Lee Sedol, in a series of bouts to see whether it could have its own Garry Kasparov moment.

Now, The Guardian has reported that, in the first of five games, AlphaGo has indeed bested Sedol in what was a very tight match, according to commentators, revealing that both AlphaGo and Sedol made an almost equal amount of errors.

‘I didn’t think I would lose’

While there are still four matches to go before a champion can be declared, it’s a major achievement for any AI program to have achieved even one partial victory against a world champion, as many AI experts had said that it would be another decade before it could happen.

33-year-old Sedol, a winner of 18 world titles since he decided to go professional at the sprightly age of 12, was asked for his thoughts on the loss following the round and, it’s safe to say, he was impressed with the program’s skills.

Describing its strategy as excellent, Sedol said: “I was very surprised because I did not think that I would lose the game. A mistake I made at the very beginning lasted until the very last.”

If you’ve got nearly four hours to spare, you can watch the two compete in a replay video, and this will be where you can watch the next four bouts, too.

Go board image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic