Korean Go Master Quits Because He Could Not Beat AI
Thu, April 22, 2021

Korean Go Master Quits Because He Could Not Beat AI

DeepMind's AlphaGo AI system defeated Go master Lee-Se dol / Photo Credit: Nataliia Dvukhimenna (via Shutterstock)


South Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol retired after being defeated by AI, according to James Vincent of American technology news site The Verge and Korean news platform Yonhap News Agency. Lee told Yonhap, “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.” Go was “considered beyond the reach” of even the most advanced computer programs for many years. The ancient board game is complex, with more possible configurations in pieces than atoms in the universe. 

This took a knock in 2016 when DeepMind, a Google-owned AI company, defeated Se-dol four matches to one with its AlphaGo AI system. The match had a profound impact all over the globe, telling everyone that there is a “new breed of machine learning programs” that are smarter and more creative than previous batches of AI systems. Lee initially predicted he would defeat AlphaGo in a “landslide.” The twist? He lost to the AI, prompting him to apologize to the South Korean public. After the tournament, he stated, “I failed. I feel sorry that the match is over and it ended like this. I wanted it to end well.”

Even so, Go experts agreed that the match was outstanding. AlphaGo surprised everyone with its so-called “move 37.” The move was mistaken by human experts as a mistake but proved to be a game-changer in round two. Lee executed his “hand of God” play (move 78), leaving the AI program confused and enabling Lee to win the round. Interestingly, he’s the only human to ever win against AlphaGo in a tournament. 

DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis noted Lee’s “true warrior spirit” in the games, according to a statement given to The Verge. Hassabis congratulated Lee on behalf of the whole AlphaGo team at DeepMind and wished him all the best for the future. However, Lee is not giving up on playing against AI as he plans to play a match against HanDol, South Korea’s AI program to commemorate his retirement in December. He said, “I wanted to play comfortably against HanDol as I have already retired, though I will do my best.”