Lee Sedol’s $1m AI Go battle will be live on YouTube

5 Feb 2016

Go is an abstract strategy game that many people may never have heard of but, amid the battle of AI, you’re about to notice it a lot more.

Last week, Google got the ultimate one-up on Facebook, after the latter announced plans to develop its AI to compete with, and beat, players of Go.

Within 24 hours, Google released a scientific paper in Nature noting how its Deep Mind-backed AlphaGo software had already done just that, with the timing fortunate, and delicious.

When competing with other available Go programs, AlphaGo won 99pc of its games, and then faced its first real challenge when it competed with European Go champion, Fan Hui, winning 5-0.

Time to up your game

But the real challenge, akin to Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov at chess almost 20 years ago, comes when facing a global champion. Step forward Lee Sedol, widely thought to be the greatest Go player of the last decade.

So, in March, Google’s DeepMind will face off in the ultimate test and, unlike its wins over Hui, which were kept secret until the Nature paper was published, Sedol’s matches will be streamed live on YouTube.

Five matches in mid-March, with a $1m prize on offer, there for all to see.


For those unfamiliar with Go, it is an abstract strategy game played on a grid of black lines, usually 19 by 19.

Game pieces in black and white, called stones, are played on the intersections of these lines with the object of the game being to gain the most territory on the board with your stones and there is no predetermined end point.

The game only finishes when players mutually decide that no more moves of value can be made. Those familiar with Google Doodles will remember back in 2014 one featured the legendary Go player Honinbo ‘Invincible’ Shusaku.

“I have heard that Google DeepMind’s AI is surprisingly strong and getting stronger, but I am confident that I can win, at least this time,” Sedol said in a statement.

Why Go?

The reason tech giants like Facebook and Google want to prove their AI capabilities against the best Go players around is simple: in terms of numbers and possibilities, the game is incredibly hard to master.

The difficulty lies in the fact a game like chess has 20 possible moves for the average position. Complexity level: high. In Go, however, the number of possibilities increases to ten times this number. Complexity level: so much higher.

“If we win the match in March, then that’s sort of the equivalent of beating Kasparov in chess,” said Demis Hassabis, head of the Google DeepMind lab behind its AlphaGo AI system, last month.

“Lee Sedol is the greatest player of the past decade. I think that would mean AlphaGo would be better than any human at playing Go. Go is the ultimate game in AI research.”

Go image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic