If you were a boy growing up in Europe in the late 1970s or early 1980s, there’s a good chance that at some stage you played chess. However, if you were born in Japan, China or Korea, it’s likely that Go was the game for you. Compared to Go, chess Is like playing snakes and ladders. In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue beat reigning world champion Garry Kasparov at chess. However, the holy grail of AI has always been Go. The complexity and instinct needed in the game was long-thought to be beyond computers, especially when you consider that there are more possible board configurations than atoms in the universe.
For over twenty years, the dream of two of DeepMind’s co-founders Shane Legg and Demis Hassabis was to create an Artificial Intelligence which could defeat the top Go players. In 2015 they got their chance when the AlphaGo program, created using Google DeepMind, took on and defeated European Go champion Fan Hui. However, as Fan was only a 2nd dan, many still refused to believe that a computer could defeat a World Champion. When the highest ranked player in the world and 9th dan Lee Sedol accepted their challenge, the team had their opportunity to prove everyone wrong. Greg Kohs’ documentary AlphaGo follows their journey.
What could easily have been a very dry subject is kept fresh, informative and interesting by lively pacing and an array of personable characters and experts. Kohs provides a wealth of fascinating background informative, cleverly sprinkled here and there into the narrative. As the scale of their achievement begins to sink home, they use experts to assuage any concerns regarding future applications of Artificial Intelligence. At one stage, it even looked as though Lee Sedol was being trolled by AlphaGo. Which was both incredible and scary. AlphaGo is a thrilling documentary which pits man versus machine in a battle for superiority over an ancient Chinese game.
AlphaGo screens at London Film Festival on 8, 9 & 10 October.