Computers might beat us at board games, but that doesn’t mean they’ll take over the world

Post-apocalyptic visions in the Terminator Genisys. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount Pictures ‘AlphaGo” is the sort of supercomputer name a pulp science fiction novelist might come up with. Nevertheless, the achievements of this Google DeepMind machine are only too real. It has become the first computer program to beat a professional human player of the Chinese strategy game Go, without handicaps, on a full‑sized 19×19 board. It shouldn’t surprise us when computers beat humans at board games. They can, after all, store and rapidly analyse hundreds of millions of moves, and work out the implications of strategies hundreds of moves ahead, something no merely human player can manage. But AlphaGo is different. Experts in Go strategy report that it (I initially wrote “he” …) played in non‑obvious ways, making unusual, sly and even…


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