Where does Go go? (1)

In mid 1980s IBM hired the team developing a chess computer program for Carnegie Mello University. Known as Deep Thought, the program won a game against Grandmaster Bent Larsen in 1988 but lost the match against the reigning champion Garry Kasparov in 1989 by two games to zero. Renamed Deep Thought it challenged Kasparov again in 1996 and this time lost 4-2. Then in 1997 in New York City Deep Blue became the first computer program to defeat the reigning human chess champion under tournament conditions by beating Garry Kasparov 3.5-2.5. The era of human dominance in chess was over.

Deep Blue was run on a dedicated mainframe with multiple processors operating in parallel. The code, while sophisticated by 1990s standards, derived much of its strength from being able to search and analyse the game many moves ahead. Human brain has limitations in this area but conventional wisdom was that top players more than make up for it by being able to think strategically. In 1997 the sheer computing power of a super-computer running code compiled by a team of experts overpowered the chess intuition of the best human player and, as they say, the rest is history. I remember speculations made post-1997 that there is another game which will not fall to the computer analysis that easily. Go.

Chess is played on a 8×8 board and has 20 possible opening moves. Go is played on a 19×19 board and the number of opening moves is 361. An average chess game is 40-50 moves long versus 200 moves in Go. This should give an idea how much more computationally intensive the game of Go is compared to chess. In fact the number of possible positions which may arise in Go is so huge it exceeds the number of atoms in the universe many, many times over. In that sense it is impossible to apply the brute force Deep Blue approach to Go – there simply is not enough computing power available in the World to search all the moves. Which is why Go players rely largely on intuition and feel when they play. Something computers cannot do – right? Read on to find out!

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