Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, announced this morning that Facebook has created an artificial intelligence system that is “getting close” to beating the best humans at Chinese board game Go.
Go, the eastern version of chess, is a board game for two players that is thought to have originated in China more than 2,500 years ago and has trillions of possible moves.
“Scientists have been trying to teach computers to win at Go for 20 years,” wrote Zuckerberg on his Facebook page. “We’re getting close, and in the past six months we’ve built an AI that can make moves in as fast as 0.1 secs and still be as good as previous systems that took years to build.”
Players take turns to place black or white stones on to a grid, with the aim of dominating the board by surrounding an opponent’s pieces.
While computers can beat humans at chess and other games, looking ahead in Go is more difficult for them because the number of possible moves is far greater.
Zuckerberg said: “Our AI combines a search-based approach that models every possible move as the game progresses along with a pattern matching system built by our computer vision team.
“The researcher who works on this, Yuandong Tian, sits about 20ft from my desk. I love having our AI team right near me so I can learn from what they’re working on.”
But Zuckerberg isn’t the only one looking to build a machine that can beat Go.
Google DeepMind chief Demis Hassabis gave a talk at the British Museum last year explaining how he and many of the researchers in his 150-strong team are also aiming to develop AIs that can beat Go.
Hassabis, a child chess prodigy, told the Royal Society of London in November that DeepMind is very close to developing an AI agent that can beat the best Go players.
Microsoft Research is also looking at developing agents that can defeat the best humans at Go.
Earlier this month Zuckerberg said he hoped to develop a “simple AI” that could power his home and help him at work.
“My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work,” wrote Zuckerberg on Facebook. “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.”
Facebook is also exploring how it can build AI into its Messenger platform so that Facebook users can get quick answers to questions and carry out tasks.
Why beating Go is important
Dr Sean Holden from the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory told the BBC: “Playing games like this is essentially a search problem. The AI has to search for a sequence of actions that will get you from the start of the game to a winning position.
“And that general search problem is potentially usable in all manner of different AI scenarios.
“Because, what AI essentially comes down to is that if you have a robot and you want it to achieve a task, you want it to find a sequence of moves from where it is to where you want it to be.”