AlphaGo: Is the Human Mind Still Superior to AI?

Jack GreenJuly 9, 2024AI and the Future of KnowledgeMedia
AlphaGo: Is the Human Mind Still Superior to AI?

When I decided to watch the movie AlphaGo, I had no idea what the board game “Go” was.

For those of you as unaware as I was, it’s a popular game in countries such as Japan, Korea, and China, which is won by fencing off more open territory than your opponent by placing stones of a certain color in designated spaces. AlphaGo, a documentary-style movie produced in 2017 by Greg Kohs, Gary Krieg, Kevin Proudfoot, and Josh Rosen, is a true story about an artificial intelligence (AI) program called “AlphaGo” designed to triumph over human creativity and intuition to win the game of Go. It includes interviews of everyone from Go professionals to AlphaGo’s staff.

Before March 2016, experts believed it would take at least a decade for an AI program to defeat a human at Go. According to AlphaGo, there are more possible scenarios for a Go board than there are atoms in the universe. A computer simply cannot account for all that. Another thing computers can’t replicate is human intuition, which professional Go players admit to constantly employing. In fact, professional Go players such as 2p professional Fan Hui scoffed at the notion that a seemingly primitive program such as AlphaGo could defeat him, or any other human Go player. As Frank Lantz stated “Well, I technically know what I’m allowed to do, but I have no clue what I should do.” How then, could a computer beat a human at Go? Google’s DeepMind program created AlphaGo to evolve and learn on its own. Until that point, it was rare to create a program that could learn the same way as humans. But if it happened once, it can certainly happen again. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that the future of AI knowledge may involve AI teaching itself.

At the beginning of AlphaGo, a low-ranking professional Go player named Fan Hui is introduced. Fan Hui was swept by AlphaGo in a five-game Go series in October 2015. Might this mean that the future of human autonomy is at risk?

Fan Hui’s match earned AlphaGo its chance against 33-year-old genius and Go savant, Lee Sedol. Lee was recognized as the world’s best Go player. The AlphaGo staff didn’t have much experience in playing the game Go, so they brought in Fan Hui to help. With three days remaining before the contest, Fan Hui discovered certain weaknesses in AlphaGo, causing it to become delusional in certain situations. Unlike AI, the human mind tends to develop our knowledge in a more well-rounded way. Where AI has large knowledge gaps in some situations, our prior knowledge of one field often carries over to inform how we react to new situations. It’s interesting to know the “mind” of AI works differently.

The program AlphaGo represented a futuristic world to me. Sometimes people feel that their jobs are at risk of being taken over by AI. However, when I hear people talking about this, I take it with a grain of salt, assuming that this is something that won’t happen until well past my generation, if at all. Of course, I knew about technologies such as ChatGPT being used to write articles, but AI text noticeably lacks human sincerity and emotion. AlphaGo’s ability to harness human creativity truly puts it ahead of its time. After watching AlphaGo, the futuristic capabilities of AlphaGo made me realize that a world where AI can perform human capabilities may not be too far off.

AlphaGo also inspired me to think about the future of AI specifically. Just 15 years ago, the idea of creating an AI to counteract human intuition was unthinkable. Yet it happened just eight years ago. Thinking about this, I began to wonder: if AI advanced so much only seven years ago — almost before people could dream up the advancements — how will AI continue to evolve in our lifetimes?

The possibilities are endless. One rather far-fetched idea that I find intriguing is the possibility of AI medical programs. They could perform tasks such as assisting doctors, personalizing treatment for health conditions, and even predicting individuals’ future health. I know it seems unlikely, but imagine what people thought about AlphaGo just a decade and a half ago. Furthermore, when you think about the technologies we have today like CRISPR-Cas9 (which virtually copies and pastes DNA with the assistance of AI), it doesn’t seem too far off. In fact, the idea of AI beating a human at Go may not even have seemed like a possibility just 20 years ago. Therefore, AI may make advancements that are, quite literally, beyond our wildest dreams before the mid-21st century.

AlphaGo is an incredible documentary that taught me so much about AI, even beyond AlphaGo itself. I’m not always a big documentary fan, but this didn’t really deter me. AlphaGo felt like a genre movie, but had the educational purposes of a documentary. The best of both worlds! AlphaGo also evoked a lot of emotion; Lee Sedol’s dedication to humankind was pretty touching and the human versus machine aspects of the documentary reminded me of the John Henry story. For these reasons I would give AlphaGo a five-star rating. Despite its appeal to me, I wouldn’t recommend it to children under 10 years old, because they may not be able to understand the plot and significance, which would make the movie a bit boring. Furthermore, they may not appreciate the emotional ending.

If all this seems interesting to you, watch AlphaGo to see who won the match.

Jack Green is a member of the New York City Editorial Board.