Google's AlphaZero surpassed the sum of human chess knowledge - in 4 hours

Enlarge  We'd like to imagine Alpha Zero playing its chess within a 1980s style BBS

For now, Google's scientists aren't publicly commenting on the research, and the paper is still awaiting peer-review. In the 100 games after that, each program had a minute to make a move.

"The games AlphaZero played show it can calculate some incredibly creative positional bombs, the depth of which are far beyond anything humans or chess computers have come up with". That said, Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind, has clarified that while mastering these games is an achievement, they differ significantly from the sorts of scientific problems they one day hope to use AlphaZero to solve. The Go victory was, so far, considered the bleeding edge of its ability, but DeepMind has kept working on and refining this AI, culminating in a startling success in October: a new, fully autonomous version of the AI, which only learned by playing against itself, never humans, bested all its previous incarnations. In their new paper, the team showcases how the very latest AlphaZero AI takes this self-playing method - called reinforcement learning - and mixes it with a much more generally-applicable frame of thought. The AI system, after managing to master Go in just eight hours, unbelievably accomplished the same for chess with just four hours of practice.

"It will no doubt revolutionise the game, but think about how this could be applied outside chess". AlphaZero's favorite openings included the English Opening, the Queen's Gambit (my personal favorite), and the Queen Pawn Game.

AlphaZero was also pitted against its sibling, AlphaGo, which was also modified to play chess. "I feel now I know".

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AlphaZero's victory over Stockfish 8 has rocked chess experts, who are now wondering if traditional "minimax" chess engines, such as Stockfish 8 and Elmo (another chess engine that got trounced by AlphaZero), are now obsolete. It is a formidable opponent by any standards, except when going up against AlphaZero. Indeed, expert chess bots have been defeating the best human players ever since IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Chess has always been used to test the ability of artificial intelligence because the game's rigid structure is ideal for programming a computer with rules, and then letting it run its own tests against those rules.

This doesn't mean that DeepMind has developed a truly general objective, independent AI. yet.

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