The endgame (and AlphaGo)

I recently watched the movie AlphaGo on Netflix, which documents the lead up to and the challenge match between DeepMind’s AlphaGo and Lee Sedol.

Three things jumped out at me watching the movie.

One, we know it’s going to happen. Even if you didn’t previously know the outcome of AlphaGo versus Sedol, you know someday soon, the computer is going to surpass and beat the human. If not this version, then the next. If it’s only able to win a few games now, it will win all games in future. We already know the ending. But you just can’t help but want Sedol to win, because it means that we all win. It means that we put off by another day the inevitable moment when the computer can beat us. Not just beat us by being faster than our brains and bodies, like previous inventions, but by learning by itself and out-thinking us.

Two, the way the documentary protrays the tension between the two sides is when it strikes you that nobody thought it would happen so soon. Neither side, DeepMind or Sedol, thought so even as it was unfolding. It’s a moment that is simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking and amazing at the same time. The endgame is near, but how amazing that we were able to get a group of people together to program that.

Three, and this is on your mind as you watch and this is why the movie is so good: it asks the question “What happens when it happens?” What’s it do the psychology of humans to know they can’t win and that the computer has surpassed them? What’s the emotional toll? Sedol, even with his incredible winning percentage has lost other games to human players in the past, but this loss is just so much different: knowing he (and, therefore, all us humans) can’t win this one. And what happens after it happens? Will humans just play human games and computers computer games?

In the end, we’re left with only a hope. A hope that the creativity of the machine will unlock a new creativity within us. To allow us to see moves and the world in new ways we hadn’t before envisioned. And like any other tool we’ve invented – the pencil, the bicycle, the car – the computer will continue doing just that.