Lee Sedol had seen all the tricks. He knew all the moves. As one of the world’s best and most experienced players of the complex board game Go, it was difficult to surprise him. But halfway through his first match against AlphaGo, the artificially intelligent player developed by Google DeepMind, Lee was already flabbergasted.
AlphaGo’s moves throughout the competition, which it won earlier this month, four games to one, weren’t just notable for their effectiveness. The AI also came up with entirely new ways of approaching a game that originated in China two or three millennia ago and has been played obsessively since then. By their fourth game, even Lee was thinking differently about Go and its deceptively simple grid.
The AlphaGo-Lee Sedol matchup was an intense contest between human and artificial intelligence. But it also contained several moves made by both man and machine that were outlandish, brilliant, creative, foolish, and even beautiful. Deconstructing the gameplay helps explain why AlphaGo’s achievement is even more notable than it may seem on the surface and points to a fascinating future for AI.