Is AI Making Mastery Obsolete? How human chess and go masters cope with being beaten by AI

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AlphaGo playing Go with Lee Sedol

Is there any reason to continue playing games that AI has mastered? Ask the former champions who have been toppled by machines.

What happened: In 2016, International Go master Lee Sedol famously lost three out of four matches to DeepMind’s AlphaGo model. The 36-year-old announced his retirement from competition on November 27. “Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated,” he told South Korean's Yonhap News Agency.

Stages of grief: Prior to the tournament, Lee predicted that he would defeat AlphaGo easily. But the model’s inexplicable — and indefatigable — playing style pushed him into fits of shock and disbelief. Afterward, he apologized for his failure to the South Korean public.

Reaching acceptance: Garry Kasparov, the former world-champion chess player, went through his own cycle of grief after being defeated by IBM’s DeepBlue in 1997. Although he didn’t retire, Kasparov did accuse IBM’s engineers of cheating. He later retracted the charge, and in 2017 wrote a book arguing that, if humans can overcome their feelings of being threatened by AI, they can learn from it. The book advocates an augmented intelligence in which humans and machines work together to solve problems.

The human element: Although AlphaGo won in the 2016 duel, its human opponent still managed to shine. During the fourth match, Sedol made a move so unconventional it defied AlphaGo’s expectation and led to his sole victory.

We’re thinking: Lee wasn't defeated by a machine alone. He was beaten by a machine built by humans under the direction of AlphaGo research lead David Silver. Human mastery is obsolete only if you ignore people like Silver and his team.


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