Just over ten years ago, the IBM supercomputer program Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov—the greatest chess mind alive. That moment marked a turning point in the relationship between man and machine.
Now the computer is dominant in nearly every board or card game devised by man. Computers have superior command of chess, draughts, Othello (Reversi), Scrabble, three-dimensional noughts and crosses, Monopoly, and even at bridge and poker.
Why? Because the computer has a near flawless strategy that man is not intellectually capable of. It runs the board position through a databank and chooses the most logical next move…every time.
The inevitable progress of computer intelligence has long been a principal theme of science fiction. Indeed, many experts in the field of artificial intelligence say that AI will eventually evolve far beyond all human physical and intellectual capacities.
Yet there is one game at which the computer is still no match for humans—the ancient Chinese board game Go. It is the oldest game in the world, and it is perhaps the only game at which man remains the undisputed champion.
Go is believed to have originated long before there was writing to record it. According to legend, it was invented by an emperor who wished to teach his foolish son the virtues of balance and patience.
The game involves a simple grid board of 19 lines and two players, one with white stones and the other with black. The object is to stake out a larger territory by tactically placing the stones and surrounding the opponent's forces.
So why are human’s still master of this particular game? Because Go requires more than brute computational power, which is how Deep Blue and similar programs excel. The qualities that mark out the master Go player are the hallmarks of human intelligence: adaptation, intuition, and the ability to plan for the future. In order for a computer to win, a program has to be developed that can think more like a person.
Go has become a cryptic symbol of unlocking the secret of artificial intelligence. If a machine can figure out how to dominate at Go, it is believed that mankind would be very close to replicating human thought. However in spite of over a million dollars in prize money up for grabs, programmers have not yet been successful.
It has been calculated that there are more distinct games of Go than atoms in the known universe. A move early in the game can affect the passage of play hundreds of moves later. The vastness of the possibilities offers a wide range for individuality, and an intuitive awareness of the other players feelings and thoughts.
According to some experts, this very generation will live to know intuitive, “feeling” computers. When that day comes, we won’t just lose at Go, we’ll lose our last claim of superiority.
Posted by Rebecca Sato