It was over 20 years ago that IBM's Deep Blue chess playing program defeated world chess champion, Kasparov. Now, Google's Go playing program has defeated Lee Se-dol of Korea in the first of several rounds of playing. But the reports have it that this first round involved a pretty decisive outcome, so probably this is it and AI has triumphed over humans yet again.
It is a sign of how much more complicated Go really is than chess that it has taken this long for this outcome. By most accounts the program involved deep neural network learning systems far beyond what has been done before. In a way it is curious in that the rules of Go are much simpler than those of chess, with only black and white stones that are placed in locations on a 19 by 19 board in an effort to securely surround territory, in contrast with chess where pieces have these different powers and functions, although on a smaller board. There are far more possible strategies in Go, making it much harder to use the brute force methods used in other game playing programs.
I do not claim any great expertise in the game, although relative to most I am probably better at it than I am at chess, where I have now been beaten by two of my grandsons (they have not been able to beat me in Go yet). I never could beat my old man at it, although I once gave him a serious run for his money at it. In any case, when I played against a relatively crude program some years ago, it slaughtered me. So, I have my limits.
Nevertheless, I thought I might give a picture of how subtle the strategies are in the game by recounting a story my late father told me from his days as a grad student in math at Princeton in the early 1930s, a time when the place was crawling with some truly brilliant people. A Go master from Japan came and played against a group of the math grad students (Go has long been popular among people like John Nash and other brilliant math types). As first the grad students were ahead, but as the game progressed the Go master gradually caught up, finally winning by precisely 8 stones (not a lot). Later someone found out that if a player is really far superior to another he will win by that amount, which represents the 8-fold way of Buddhism, supposedly not to humiliate the opponent, although clearly really doing so seriously. In any case, that a computer program can now beat someone who is probably capable of pulling that off is quite an achievement.
No, I am not going to go off on some Luddite rambling about the fall of humanity or whatever. Yeah, maybe we are facing some long term issue of ever more capable robots replacing humans in the work force, but I do not know if this is the final straw in that or not. I am not prepared to follow Robin Hanson or others into believing in The Singularity when computers simply take over everything and totally replace us, but who knows? I do not. Maybe I need to install an deep learning neural network system in my brain...