There are two kinds of people who play board games – there are those who do it for fun and those who do it seriously. Demis Hassabis belongs to the latter, a former chess master who quit when he was young and pivoted to developing AI. To him and to most people, Go is the hardest board game. He wants to put Deepmind, his startup, to the test. And he proposes that if his titular AI program, AlphaGo, can beat the best humans, AI can do anything. AlphaGo already beat a Level 2 champion, Fan Hui, and after that, Hassabis challenges a level 9 champion, Lee Sedol. Lee, in a press conference, tells the media that both Fan and AlphaGo are not to his level. The documentary, then, depicts AlphaGo going up against the Naomi Campbell of Go.
Many people play board games, but there are, I assume, less people in the West who play Go, a game that started and is still popular in Northeast Asia. The game’s cultural appeal is one of its challenges. The second one is depicting the AI developers and their human adversaries. The latter group has its extroverted moments but the former are a bunch of introverts. Thankfully, AlphaGo makes the game compelling, and it does the same for its human subjects. And all it needs to do is to show slivers of its major and minor subjects to show their contradictions. Again, AI developers are introverts even if their work changes how the world works. The doc shows that they’re there for the work, and they treat the media attention they get with ambivalence.
This is the second time I’m writing this about documentaries and looking at them like period pieces, but that applies with AlphaGo, which came out in 2017, which feels like centuries ago. This came out when AI was an existential threat to humanity. Whereas now, AI are just Kenyans living off less than minimum wage to talk to people. Another thing that some people say about AI now is that human beings needs to be unique so that AI cant copy them. But AlphaGo shows how the titular program is just as unique. Moments like AlphaGo’s Move 37 can blow the minds of Go novices. That’s just one of many moves that AlphaGo makes to defeat Lee twice. The doc then shows AI and humans as adversaries who complement each other, and it shows us a time when that relationship was more interesting.
Watch AlphaGo on Tenk before it leaves the platform on November 6.