Hello all! Fear not: despite some extended breaks, I’m still in the game of reporting anything I hear regarding Chung Kuo, Roads to Moscow, or anything else from the pen of Mr. David Wingrove. A couple of days ago, when I saw in the news that a computer had finally beaten a human champion at Go (otherwise known to us Chung Kuo fans as wei chi), I made a mental note to post about here. And then, out of nowhere, a post appears from David in my inbox.
Without any further ado, here are some reflections from Mr. Wingrove about the significance of the event and its repercussions on AI in general. Full text after the break. And hopefully more news soon!
Anyone who has read CHUNG KUO over the years will understand the significance within the work of the Chinese game of Wei Chi (known in Japan and more commonly in the West as Go), the most ancient and probably the world’s most complex and difficult game.
As Major DeVore says in Chapter Twenty Eight of The Middle Kingdom, “A Game Of Static Patterns”
“He glanced at the machine again. It was a complex game, and he prided himself on a certain mastery of it. Strange, though, how much it spoke of the difference between East and West. At least, of the old West, hidden beneath the levels of the Han city, the layers of Han culture and Han history. The games of the West had been played on similar boards to those of the East, only the West played between the lines, not on the intersecting points. And the games of the West had been flexible, each individual piece given breath, allowed to move, as though each had an independent life. That was not so in Wei Chi. In Wei Chi once a piece was placed it remained, unless it was surrounded and its ‘breath’ taken from it. It was a game of static patterns; patterns built patiently over hours or days – sometimes even months. A game where the point was not to eliminate but to enclose.
East and West – they were the inverse of each other. Forever alien.”
The quality – or suzhi – of certain characters in the books is often measured by their mastery of (or failure to master) the 19 by 19-space Wei Chi board. And for good reason. Since we have entered the age of computers – that is, effectively since the 1950s onward – no one had managed to come up with a programme which came even close to defeating the greatest Masters of the game. Indeed, it was believed that it would be a long time yet – estimates were given of ten to thirty years – before we finally broke through that barrier.
Only… yesterday, Nature magazine published an article called “Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search”, claiming to have done just that. Just as Gary Kasparov lost to DeepBlue in 1997, so, it seems, Fan Hui – European Wei Chi Master – was beaten in five straight games by the latest challenger to the ‘Go’ crown, DeepMind, using a new software called AlphaGo. Read the rest of this entry »