The Invisible Opponent
On March 19, 2016, the strongest Go player in the world, Lee Sedol, sits down for a game against Google DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence program, AlphaGo. They’re at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun district, and it’s a big deal: Most every major South Korean television network is carrying the game. In China, 60 million people are tuning in. For the English-speaking world, the American Go Association and DeepMind are running an English-language livestream on YouTube, and 100,000 people are watching. A few hundred members of the press are in adjacent rooms, watching the game alongside expert commentators.The game room itself is spare: a table, two black leather chairs, some cameras. Three officials presiding over the match sit in the back. Across from Lee sits Aja Huang, one of AlphaGo’s lead programmers; and beside him is a computer monitor that displays AlphaGo’s move choices. Huang’s job is to physically place AlphaGo’s pieces on the board. AlphaGo itself is not any one machine—it’s a piece of distributed software supported by a team of more than 100 scientists.