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Go Champion Quits Because of AI



Lee Se-dol, the first and only human to beat Google’s algorithm at the Chinese strategy game Go, has decided to quit due to artificial intelligence (AI). According to the South Korean champion, machines “cannot be defeated.

Back in 2016. Lee Se-dol took part in a five-match competition with Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo, which caused a big publicity boom surrounding the game. It was also during that time when the fears of machines and their endless learning capacity increased. 

Prior to the matchups, Lee publicly stated that he would beat AlphaGo in a “landslide.” After the major losses, he went on to publicly apologize to the public. 

“I failed,” he said. “I feel sorry that the match is over and it ended like this. I wanted it to end well.”

In those matches, Lee Se-dol only defeated the AI once. Since then, the algorithm has gotten even better and teaches itself. That algorithm crushed its predecessor 100 games to none, and it is called AlphaGo Zero. 

Lee spoke to Yonhap news agency about his decision and the future of machines.

“Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated,” he said. 

“With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realised that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one.”

AlphaGo Zero improved by playing against itself continuously, and it only took three days of paying at superhuman speeds to drastically surpass its predecessor. At that time, DeepMind said that AlphaGo was likely the strongest Go player to ever exist. 

According to a statement given to The Verge, DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis praised Lee as having “true warrior spirit,” and went on to say that “On behalf of the whole AlphaGo team at DeepMind, I’d like to congratulate Lee Se-dol for his legendary decade at the top of the game, and wish him the very best for the future…I know Lee will be remembered as one of the greatest Go players of his generation.”

Lee will go on to participate in other ventures dealing with AI, and in December he will go against HanDol, a South Korean AI program. HanDol has outperformed the top five players in the country.

He will be given a two-stone advantage in the first game, but he believes he will still lose. 

“Even with a two-stone advantage, I feel like I will lose the first game to HanDol. These days, I don't follow Go news. I wanted to play comfortably against HanDol as I have already retired, though I will do my best,” he said.

Go was created in China around 3,000 years ago, and it has continued to be played since. It is most popular in China, Japan, and South Korea. The game consists of a square board with a 19X19 grid, and players take turns placing black or white stones on it. The winner is whoever takes the most territory wins. 

While the rules sound simple, the game is actually extremely complex. Some say that there are more combinations of move configurations than atoms in the universe. 

Lee began to play Go when he was five, and became a pro at the age of 12. 

Even though he is a master player, Lee has said that his AlphaGo win was the result of a bug that appeared after his play. 

“My white 78 was not a move that should be countered straightforwardly,” he said.


Alex McFarland is an AI journalist and writer exploring the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has collaborated with numerous AI startups and publications worldwide.