In the past weeks the game of Go has been in the headlines as never before. And the reason for this sudden notoriety? A computer program has beaten a Go master four games to one. A shocker.
The game of Go is a two-person game very popular in Northeast Asia. In this game players try to occupy the most territory possible by placing white and black stones on a board that is 19 lines by 19 lines. Novices like me play on a board that is 13 by 13. Less difficult to play but also less strategy. A typical Go game can last for hours depending on how experts the player are.
Now I cannot pretend to be a good player in this game, being quite a novice at it. My real interest is chess, and in 1999 a computer program called Deep Blue of IBM was able to humble a grand master called Garry Kasparov. I remember well the interest of those games and how I followed them.
Mr. Lee, the human master, was amazed at how quick and good the computer program called AlphaGo was. He lost three straight games to the program as well as losing the 1 million prize money, finally losing 4 games to 1.
What was most interesting was the comments the master made after his series of games. In short, he said that the program was not perfect and that there were weaknesses in some of its moves. Also interesting was the reaction of the South Korean authorities who took pains to say that it was really human programmers who won the matches.
One cannot be too surprised by the progress of artificial intelligence. What is surprising is the speed of the progress of these programs. We are well on our way to robots who might look like us and even do the tasks that we usually do. I do think that if the fears associated with these improvements are not managed we run the risk of alienating a large portion of the population. I would not be surprised if one day in our democracies an anti-robot party could develop. Just as there were people in the 19th century who opposed the industrial revolution and its new machines so there could be people in the near future who will oppose robots as they take more and more responsibilities in our economies.