A math professor at Cornell discusses AlphaZero, which apparently makes Deep Blue look like an abacus, and ponders the implications of machine learning. Excerpts from the chess part:
…The current generation of the world’s strongest chess programs, such as Stockfish and Komodo, still play in this inhuman style. They like to capture the opponent’s pieces. They defend like iron. But although they are far stronger than any human player, these chess “engines” have no real understanding of the game. They have to be tutored in the basic principles of chess. …Today’s chess engines, innately oblivious to these principles, come across as brutes: tremendously fast and strong, but utterly lacking insight.The rest is here. Nothing I’ve read about developments in AI since the turn of the century has altered my sense that machine sentience will be achieved (and that the goalposts marked “Turing Test” will by then be barely visible in the rear-view mirror), and that we will recognize this only some time after the fact. I for one welcome our new, et cetera.
All of that has changed with the rise of machine learning. By playing against itself and updating its neural network as it learned from experience, AlphaZero discovered the principles of chess on its own and quickly became the best player ever. Not only could it have easily defeated all the strongest human masters — it didn’t even bother to try — it crushed Stockfish, the reigning computer world champion of chess. In a hundred-game match against a truly formidable engine, AlphaZero scored twenty-eight wins and seventy-two draws. It didn’t lose a single game.
Most unnerving was that AlphaZero seemed to express insight. It played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and took risks. In some games it paralyzed Stockfish and toyed with it. …It was almost as if AlphaZero was waiting for Stockfish to realize, after billions of brutish calculations, how hopeless its position truly was, so that the beast could relax and expire peacefully, like a vanquished bull before a matador. Grandmasters had never seen anything like it. AlphaZero had the finesse of a virtuoso and the power of a machine. It was humankind’s first glimpse of an awesome new kind of intelligence.