What Google’s DeepMind Victory Really Means

It’s 1997. The Backstreet Boys debut in the U.S. with one of the most successful albums of all time. Microsoft is the world’s most valuable company, with a $261 billion market cap. And an IBM computer named Deep Blue defeats Garry Kasparov, reigning world chess champion and, at the time, the highest-ranked chess player to have ever lived.

Though it was not the first time man has lost to machine, it is perhaps the most prominent, highly publicized by IBM and widely covered by the global media. It was viewed as a milestone for AI, the true arrival of computer intelligence. The world celebrated the achievement of technology — or offered doomsday predictions of a robot revolution. The future was now.

It should sound familiar. Google’s DeepMind AI recently won a landmark victory over Go world champion Lee Se-dol. Go, a board game substantially more complex than chess, has long been considered a penultimate challenge for AI. Where brute-force calculations give computers an edge in chess, Go has a near-infinite number of possible board positions. Computer power was not enough to defeat human intuition — until now.

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