The game of Go recently came into the spotlight when the world was stunned by the news that one of the world’s top professional Go players was defeated by Google’s AlphaGo computer program in March. Why was this a big deal? About 36 million people in more than 60 nations and territories, including 200,000 in the U.S., play Go, and AlphaGo’s victory is regarded as a major milestone for artificial intelligence (AI).
The rules of Go are very simple. Players take turns placing black or white stones on a grid-like board with the aim of encircling their opponent. Possible game development patterns in Go are said to number more than 10 to the power of 360, whereas those of chess number 10 to the power of 120 and those of shogi number 10 to the power of 220. Given this complexity, it had been believed that AI would not be able to win against professional Go players for at least ten more years, even though it had already beat humans in chess and shogi matches. However, AI has been making great progress in recent years, as global tech giants and other companies, including Google and Toyota, are racing to develop new AI-based technologies such as self-driving cars. AlphaGo’s success stems from “deep learning,” a process by which computers seek to emulate the human brain’s way of processing information. The program learned where and when to place its stones by analyzing professional Go matches through deep learning.
Yuta Iyama became the first Go player in history to hold all seven major Japanese titles simultaneously in April. The 26-year-old prodigy could be described as a product of the Internet era. He first learned how to play Go when he was five years old by using a Go computer game. He later received instruction online from a Go teacher. Twenty years later, computer technology, which facilitated Iyama’s distance learning, is making remarkable progress. The young genius has said he can predict as many as 1,000 moves when he is playing Go, but AlphaGo may be able to foresee even more. However, even if computer technology continues to progress, the fact that the game of Go, which originated in China some 4,000 years ago, is a cultural phenomenon of profound depth will never change. According to Asahi (1/10), an increasing number of schools from elementary to college levelhave begun to offer students Go lessons taught by professional players as part of their academic curricula. The schools believe that Go lessons can help students develop the ability to concentrate and think logically. Iyama expressed hope during an interview with Mainichi (5/2) that his achievements and the development of AI will inspire more young people to play Go.