Saturday, March 12, 2016

Punching a Brick Wall

Playing Alpha Go is like punching a brick wall.  I know that many people watching perhaps do not play Go and are having a hard time appreciating what's going on, but my feeling watching Alpha Go play over the past 3 matches is that it is just like punching a brick wall.  It has no feelings.  In Go, you can use your emotions to guide you on how to play.  Most Go players will tell you it's intuition, or a feeling that draws you to certain parts of the board.  Emotions have a huge effect on the game.  Some moves look dangerous, where your stones will be easily captured and you would automatically lose. You can intimidate your opponent, and if you don't maintain mental concentration, you could slip easily and miss an easy move.

Alpha Go doesn't feel.  Playing Alpha Go is like punching a brick wall.

The commentators sometimes would say "Alpha Go doesn't seemed bothered here," for example, and I thought to myself "It isn't possible for it to be bothered."  It already knows which parts of the board are important, and can select sequences with extreme precision.  Lee Sedol had such a difficult time in the opening.  It's like watching Michael Jordan unable to get the ball in the hoop no matter how much he sweats, or Mike Tyson punching his opponent but getting no reaction.

The beginning of the game was astounding.  Lee Sedol started off on his back foot.  Alpha Go's groups were always stronger.  Even when it looked like the two were struggling, Alpha Go was always relatively stronger.  You can think of White's group at A like a team.  All those stones live and die together.  So does Black B.  Neither Black nor White can say their group is 100% safe, but White's group is somehow safer.  An attack never materializes against him the whole game!

Punching a brick wall.

Then, the game starts to get super exciting.  A lot of times in Go, you're fighting with your opponent. It's like boxing.  Both players are throwing jabs and uppercuts, and both men are trying to go for the knockout blow.  There is bobbing and weaving, but when the opportunity presents itself, Evander Holyfield just lays his opponent on the floor with his jab.  Not Alpha Go.

White A is like giving your opponent a pat on the head and telling him to not forget his lunch as he's getting on the school bus, then going to work at a high powered Wall Street firm.  White A could have been a number of moves that could have aimed to attack Black at the top, White could have tried to land that knock out blow, but instead, White's aim was the very large, very valuable box of territory on the other side of the board.  This shows the computer has no greed, and confirms one of the timeless lessons of the game of Go, that greed will eventually destroy you, and that patience and global thinking are rewarded.

Punching a brick wall.

I'm glad I'm alive to witness this history. A computer program has defeated one of the greatest grand masters of Go.  Plus, it might mean that Google could develop a commercial program that people could play.  I'd love to use a Go program to help me improve my game.  Even though I'm no where even close to Lee Sedol, it would be so invaluable.  Congrats to the Google team!