Earlier this month, Google's AI company DeepMind announced that it had built a system of neural networks capable of beating a champion Go player. This ancient Chinese board game is considered an extremely difficult challenge for a computer — far harder than chess — and DeepMind's success was hailed as coup for AI research. However, the computer only beat the game's European champion, and in March, DeepMind's AlphaGo AI will take on the world champion, with YouTube live streaming the series of games.
DeepMind's founder Demis Hassabis announced details about the competition on Twitter: the five-game matchup will take place in Seoul on March 9th to the 15th (there'll be a game a day apart from on the 11th and 14th), with AlphaGo facing off against the world's top-ranked player, South Korea's Lee Sedol, for a $1 million prize.
"I am confident that I can win at least this time."
The news instantly invites comparison to the famous six-game chess matches between world champion Garry Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue computer in 1996 and 1997. Kasparov won in '96, but was defeated in '97. Whether Sedol will be able to hold his own against Google's AI remains to be seen. AlphaGo comfortably beat the European champion, Fan Hui, five matches to nil, but Sedol doesn't seem shaken. "I have heard that Google DeepMind’s AI is surprisingly strong and getting stronger, but I am confident that I can win at least this time," he said in a press statement.
A loss for AlphaGo would hardly be catastrophic though. DeepMind's win against Hui has been described as a "decade earlier than expected," and any setback would likely be temporary — just as it was with Deep Blue.