Artificial intelligence program powered by U of A alumni takes on world's best Go player
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Artificial intelligence program powered by U of A alumni takes on world's best Go player

Computer scientists at the University of Alberta are gearing up to watch a modern-age version of David versus Goliath, where man will battle machine in complex strategy board game, Go.

“You could study Go for a lifetime,” said professor Martin Mueller, who is travelling to China on Saturday to watch a three-game match between professional Go player Ke Jie and the computer program AlphaGo.

Developed at Google DeepMind by a team of scientists — including U of A alumni David Silver and Aja Huang — AlphaGo was the first artificial intelligence to defeat professional Go players. In March 2016, the program beat one of the world’s best players, Lee Sedol, in Seoul, South Korea, in a historic series that saw AlphaGo win four out of five games.

Go is an ancient Chinese game that involves placing pieces, named stones, on an empty board to form territories and surround the other player. The tournament at the upcoming Future of Go Summit, from May 23 to 27, has the makings of an epic contest.


“We expect AlphaGo has gotten stronger than last year,” said Mueller, noting that Jie is ranked first in the world.

AlphaGo delivered a welcome shock to Go enthusiasts and the field of computer science when it was made public, he added. “(Google DeepMind) developed it more or less in secret … it used a number of breakthrough new technologies.”

He said in the past, Go computer programs steadily improved, similarly to how chess software was developed. But AlphaGo was revolutionary.

“It’s like going from a regular plane to a jet engine,” he said.

Mueller has played the game for more than 30 years. “Sometimes you have to think very far ahead … but sometimes you have to make a judgment, because at least for humans it’s impossible to think through all the variations. ”

Colleague Ryan Hayward, whose interest in Go is more recent, explained how AlphaGo influenced researchers around the world.

“As soon as that paper (in Nature) came out, everybody was carefully reading it … trying to embed those ideas into the project they were working on,” he said.

Hayward will be watching the tournament enthusiastically from Alberta, describing it as the equivalent to the Stanley Cup finals for hockey fans. Go professionals have yet to reach the cult status in Canada that they receive in Asia — the game is particularly popular in China, South Korea and Japan.

“The top players are identified young and go to professional schools,” he said. “The mental calculations are amazing to watch.”

source : Calgary SUN
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