AlphaGo is an ostensibly dry and rather niche documentary on DeepMind’s efforts – from an idea 20 years in the making – to teach its AI to master the ancient Chinese board game Go. This game is considered the most difficult in the world because of the number of moves possible (there are more board configurations than there are atoms in the universe). It’s also about a lot more than that because if AI cracks Go, the potential unlocked for problem-solving in the future could be boundless. This is also all taking place a decade earlier than predicted by scientists…

AlphaGo examines the human spirit, creativity, human invention and the tussle of man vs. machine (but machine programmed by man). As technology begins to challenge leading international Go players to test its programming, real tension builds. The focus of the documentary is 2016’s Google DeepMind Challenge Match vs. leading South Korean player Lee Sedol. It’s fascinating to see how different it is to playing a human – no tells, no emotion – and Sedol is constantly changing his game in order to be unpredictable. At this stage, AlphaGo had already defeated European Champion Fan Hui, who winningly narrates most of the documentary, being so engaged by the possibilities of the technology. Sedol is also appealing in his honesty, humility and immense strength of mind. Perhaps the most interesting part is watching the DeepMind team struggle with the undeniable and natural pull of wanting a human to prevail.

It’s amazing how fascinating watching a man and a machine moving pieces on a simple grid can be. That’s the beauty of director Kohs’ work though, as some of the biggest questions about the very nature and limitations of humanity are simultaneously raised. The sense of history being made is palpable.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Demis Hassabis, Fan Hui, Lee Sedol, David Silver

DIRECTOR: Greg Kohs

SYNOPSIS: On March 9, 2016, the worlds of ancient board game Go and artificial intelligence collided in South Korea for an extraordinary best-of-five-game competition, coined the Google DeepMind Challenge Match. This event tested the very limits of human invention, intelligence and tenacity – and what the future may hold for AI.

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