Machine triumphs in strategy game

a Go board

A computer program called AlphaGo has bested a pro human player at Go, an ancient strategy game more complex than chess. 

Linh Nguyen/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a victory that rivals the computer Deep Blue’s 1997 win over chess champion Garry Kasparov, a computer has now bested a professional human player in the classic strategy game Go.

The computer program, called AlphaGo, trounced Fan Hui, the reigning European Go champion, 5 games to 0, researchers report in the Jan. 28 Nature.

Go, a game that originated in China more than 2,500 years ago, is much more complicated than chess, with an order of magnitude more possible opening moves, study coauthor Demis Hassabis of Google DeepMind said at a news conference. Many researchers thought a computer wouldn’t be able to beat a top human player for another five or 10 years, he said.

AlphaGo learned to play Go from experience. But the program needed much more practice than humans do to become an expert, Hassabis said: millions of games, rather than thousands.

In March, the program will put its skills to the ultimate test in a match against South Korean Lee Sedol, considered the world’s best Go player. 

Meghan Rosen headhsot

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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