One of the biggest Go players retires due to the rise of invincible AI players

Image via Yonhap News Agency

Lee Se-dol, arguably one of the greatest Go players today and the only human ever to defeat the artificial intelligence Go player AlphaGo, retired from professional competitions of the game last week.

The master player of the ancient Chinese strategy game reasoned that his retirement was caused by the advent of invincible artificial intelligence systems. Referring to AlphaGo, which is an AI system built by Alphabet Inc.'s DeepMind, in an interview with the South Korean Yonhap News Agency, Lee stated:

"With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts. Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated."

Following the news of his retirement, Demis Hassabis, the Chief Executive and Co-founder of DeepMind, congratulated Lee on his exemplary career:

"On behalf of the whole AlphaGo team at DeepMind, I'd like to congratulate Lee Se-dol for his legendary decade at the top of the game, and wish him the very best for the future. During the AlphaGo matches, he demonstrated true warrior spirit and kept us on the edges of our seats to the very end."

Back in 2016, Lee sized up against AlphaGo in a historic showdown where the AI system defeated the master player four times in a total of five games, leaving him frustrated. However, this match-up proved to be momentous for the game and AI in general, as Go was famous for being notoriously hard to make competent AI systems for. This is partly due to the belief that the pieces in the game have more possible configurations than there are atoms in the observable universe.

Interestingly, Lee remarked that even his praised win in game 4 of the 2016 match was only due to a buggy response by the AlphaGo system. His unexpected move at white 78 invited a poor response on move 79 by the AI system resulting in its defeat:

"My white 78 was not a move that should be countered straightforwardly. Such a bug still occurs in Fine Art (a Chinese Go-playing computer program). Fine Art can hardly be defeated even after accepting two stone handicaps against humans. But when it loses, it loses in a strange way. It's due to a bug."

There might be some wisdom behind Lee's reflection on his sole victory, given how AlphaGo won all matches against another renowned Go player, Ke Jie, a couple of years back.

In December, despite his retirement and as a commemoration to his career, Lee is due to play Go against another AI system, HanDol, which has already defeated the top five South Korean Go Players. But Lee will be given an advantage of two stones at the beginning of the game, which according to him might still prove to be ineffective against the AI opponent. "Even with a two-stone advantage, I feel like I will lose the first game to HanDol," Lee remarked.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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