Players worldwide declared it the end of an era, while computer enthusiasts called it the beginning. Call it what you will, but you can’t deny one fact. The match between google’s AlphaGo and South Korean professional go player Lee Sedol was a milestone achievement in the field of artificial intelligence that has unlocked infinite opportunities for AI. AlphaGo victory was so absolute that it removed all doubt about its strength from the mind of experienced players. In fact, it played so well that those who witnessed the matches, described AlphaGo’s style of play as almost scary.
AlphaGo is a computer program developed by Google DeepMind in London to play the board game Go. Go is considered a much more difficult game for computers to win than other games such as chess, because its much larger branching factor makes it prohibitively difficult to use traditional AI methods such as Alpha–beta pruning, Tree traversal and heuristic search. In simple words, the sheer number of choices a player can make in every turn is what makes Go a difficult game to program an AI system for. Most experts thought a Go program as powerful as AlphaGo was at least five years away; some experts thought that it would take at least another decade before computers would beat Go champions. The fact that AlphaGo was able to defeat a professional human player on a full sized 19×19 board without any handicaps is what makes the victory so special. Most observers at the beginning of the 2016 matches expected Lee to beat AlphaGo in a straight 5-0, the Mike Tyson way of winning. So the crushing 4-1 victory of AlphaGo came as a severe shock (and that’s putting it mildly) to the scientific community.
But what’s interesting is the fact how the community at large has reacted to this victory. The ramifications of this historic victory can be largely interpreted in 2 ways.
Some commentators believe AlphaGo’s victory makes for a good opportunity for society to start discussing preparations for the possible future impact of machines with general purpose intelligence. That means that the long held dream of a true form of general artificial intelligence is going to be upon humanity sooner than we thought.
However there is a darker side attached to this victory too; in March 2016, AI researcher Stuart Russell stated that “AI methods are progressing much faster than expected, (which) makes the question of the long-term outcome more urgent,” adding that “in order to ensure that increasingly powerful AI systems remain completely under human control… there is a lot of work to do.” Now I am sure the idea of artificial intelligence taking over humanity sounds rather fanciful and almost insane. Terminator’s portrayal of Skynet makes us all believe such a thing can obviously not be true… But don’t be too sure. Many of the artificial intelligence programs such as AlphaGo itself are based on self-improvement. Like in the case of AlphaGo, the program became stronger by playing millions of games against itself. Some scholars, such as Stephen Hawking, warn that some such future self-improving AI could gain actual general intelligence, leading to an unexpected AI takeover; other scholars disagree: AI expert Jean-Gabriel Ganascia believes that “Things like ‘common sense’… may never be reproducible”, and says “I don’t see why we would speak about fears. On the contrary, this raises hopes in many domains such as health and space exploration.” Sutton said “I don’t think people should be scared… but I do think people should be paying attention.”
Well, what do you think? Will AlphaGo be the foundation stone upon which AI systems such as JARVIS will be created? Or, will it give birth to a much darker and sinister version of ULTRON?!