Triggered (3)

October 29, 2017

In the brilliant podcast interview given to Sam Harris, Scott Adams claims that on the evening of the 2016 US election Hillary voters were hit by a “cluster bomb” of what is known as cognitive dissonance. It occurs in people who find themselves in a hitherto unthinkable situation and, rather than adjusting their views, create an illusory version of the external reality which they are finding easier to deal with.

The example Scott uses to explain the current state of the public life in the US is that of a movie theatre in which one half of the audience is watching a different movie than the other half – on the same screen. Trump supporters, who were not triggered into cognitive dissonance on 8 November 2016, see the economy going well, Dow Jones at record high levels, illegal immigration 50% down, ISIS dispersing and tax cuts on the horizon. The movie the other half of the theatre is watching is dramatically different and also changes with time.

At first it featured the sky falling and a Hitler character in the White House who had to be resisted. This was the time of the “Not my President” demonstrations and Antifa violence. Then the movie changed into one showing Donald Trump (Hitler had dropped from the cast) using normal presidential mechanisms but causing complete chaos in the White House. At present the alternative script has Donald Trump’s agenda (which aligns with both his election promises and the Republican stance) getting back on track but, predictably, his detractors hate what he is trying to achieve.

What I am finding impressive is that Scott Adams predicted both Trump’s win and the subsequent split of the audience into two halves, each watching its own movie. Here is a great quote from the linked podcast interview:

“I predicted that Trump will not only change the political life – he changed everything – but also will rip a hole in the fabric of reality and allow us to peek through it”

There is a wealth of other interesting angles in what Scott has to say and I recommend the podcast to anyone trying to understand what is going on in the world of US politics. It is a highly thought-provoking piece of social analysis which may trigger some people into checking which movie they are watching.



Triggered (2)

October 28, 2017

The Sam Harris podcast interview with Scott Adams was an eye opener for me when it comes to understanding peoples’ reactions to the election of Donald Trump. For those who cannot invest two hours to listen to it online I will try to summarise Scott’s key points.

In the run up to the 2016 elections the American public was divided into those who wanted to see Trump win (or at least considered this possibility) and those who viewed this outcome as unthinkable. The polls consistently indicated that the latter group was right – the odds were overwhelmingly is Hillary’s favour. Additionally, all the mainstream media (CNN, NYT, WaPo) had run a relentless campaign demonising Donald Trump as a racist, homophobe, misogynist and so on. Bombarded by this deluge of propaganda coming from the media outfits people used to trust, approximately one half of the Americans considered Trump unelectable and Hillary’s win the only possibility.

On the election night the unthinkable happened. Trump’s win split the US society into two camps. Those who had voted for Trump (or at least considered him a serious contender) took a deep breath, had a beer or two and moved on. Most viewed Trump as someone who, while unconventional, should be good for the economy, tighten up the borders, confront the inbred Washington elites etc. For this section of the American society the life carried on – albeit with a colourful, polarising and unpredictable occupant in the White House. Their worldview was not upended by the Electoral College results.

Before we look at how the other camp reacted to Trump’s win we need to introduce the concept of cognitive dissonance. This is what individuals experience when they find themselves in a situation so unexpected that it challenges their deeply held beliefs. One way of dealing with cognitive dissonance would be to change one’s views so they fit the unfolding reality. However, with the way human mind works, a different reaction is much more common. Faced with a situation considered absurdly unthinkable we tend to re-define the reality – essentially creating an imaginary version thereof in which things make sense to us.

According to Scott Adams, this is exactly what happened to the Hillary voters on the night of 8 November 2016.

Triggered (3)


Triggered (1)

October 27, 2017

This post gives account of my personal struggle to deal with the ripples caused by the meteoric rise of Donald Trump. There are two angles here – my own coming to terms with the extraordinary events surrounding his election and trying to understand how others view them.

During the campaign I did not really like Trump’s populism but was impressed by his willingness to talk about the issues no other presidential candidate would touch. What truly shocked me though was the way the mainstream media, whose job is to give a neutral account of the reported events, openly threw their weight behind Hillary Clinton. The likes of CNN, NYT or WaPo gave up on any distinction between news (meaning fact reporting) and opinions – virtually all their coverage consisted of anti-Trump opinions presented as facts.

This was followed by the professional bodies selling out in a similar way. I watched with disbelief when American Psychoanalytic Association reversed its long-standing policy and allowed its members to publicly discuss the mental condition of Donald Trump. I struggled to reconcile the concept of an open society – in which media and science should be neutral – with the reality of so many organisations shamelessly taking one side in a democratic political contest.

My bewilderment continued after the election, when the people I know and respect appeared totally blind to the monumental social manipulation playing out in the mainstream media. The same online news services which so blatantly biased their election coverage in favour of one (failed) candidate were trusted to provide a neutral account of what the winner was up to. How could anyone possessed of a critical mind accept the anti-Trump garbage peddled by the disgraced mainstream media? How come so many of my friends still do?

The answer to my questions came from an unexpected source – the Sam Harris podcast interview with Scott Adams

Triggered (2)


Putin and the US election

October 26, 2017

The Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election has been a subject of much speculation. Most people appear to assume that Putin’s aim was to promote Trump because of some sort of ideological or personal connection between the two, often referred to as “co-operation” or “collusion”. This post presents my views on this contentious issue.

Having grown up in Poland before the Iron Curtain fell I experienced first-hand the tactics used by the Soviets to exercise control. Their classic method is sowing discord to exploit fractures in the societies of the countries they want to dominate. This approach, described in detail in the KGB manuals, can target any existing or prospective social tension but will typically focus on the following areas:

  1. Discontent of the underclasses over unequal distribution of wealth and social privilege
  2. Promotion of political groups and leaders promising change – the more radical the better
  3. Ferment caused by the feminist ideology seeking to undermine the patriarchal system
  4. Racial divisions which can be exploited to foster social chaos and civil unrest

For someone who grew up watching the process in real life divide-and-rule is an ABC of Soviet expansionism. While this method would not work against North Korea, it is remarkably effective in splitting up free societies which allow open debates on contentious issues. Most countries which eventually fell under the Soviet rule first experienced waves of internal discontent expressed by the underprivileged, women and minorities – all inspired and sponsored by the KGB machine. Viewed through this filter Putin’s support for Trump is not a sign of any meaningful allegiance but simply the promotion of a destabilising change in the political system of a traditional adversary. But have other social fractures been targeted by the Russian hackers in the run-up to the US elections?

“According to The Daily Caller, the Instagram account, @feminist_tag, was actually the work of Russian officials, and designed to use the burgeoning anti-Trump “resistance” to further divide the country, sowing political discord that the Russians hoped would lead to a system breakdown. Russian media outlet, RBC, reports that @feminist_tag was part of a much larger Russian program, designed to inflame identity politics, and which included Facebook ads, specifically targeted to increase racial and gender-based tensions. The program specifically targeted areas like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, as well as, it seems, the Women’s Marchers — anyone who was actively undermining American unity, it seems.”

“Sources with knowledge of the ads tell CNN that they ranged from posts promoting gun rights and the Second Amendment to posts warning about what they said was the threat undocumented immigrants posed to American democracy. Some ads promoted Black Lives Matter while others decried it, as the Washington Post reported Monday. The apparent goal of the ads, the sources who spoke with CNN said, was to amplify political discord and fuel an atmosphere of incivility and chaos around the 2016 presidential campaign, not necessarily to promote one candidate or cause over another.”

So here we go – Putin’s support for Trump which the liberals obsess about was just one component of the propaganda campaign straight out of the KGB manuals, whose aim was to weaken the American society. As evidenced by the rounds of mutual recriminations between various political factions in the US, the Russians succeeded in their goal.


How to save on fuel

October 20, 2017

My recent research into car fuel economy has turned up some surprising findings. It looks like more may mean less and it is possible to save on the gas bill without turning the ignition key.

If you have been following the competitive automotive market in the last decade or so you cannot have missed the emergence of small turbo-charged engines. The theory underpinning their claimed efficiency is solid. If you drive them leisurely they are just small engines which, due to lower internal inertia and friction, burn less gas. But if you need to accelerate quickly the turbo kicks in producing the required power boost. A large displacement engine on the other hand suffers more losses to overcome the inertia and friction of its moving parts while the full power it is capable of producing is only called upon infrequently. This is why the laboratory tests used to derive the “official” fuel economy figures consistently show that small turbo cars outperform larger, atmospheric engines. Very logical, right?

Right, except this is not how people drive their cars. A comprehensive survey of the fuel consumption in real life has revealed two startling facts, summarised in the graph below.


  1. The difference between the claimed and actually realised fuel economy is much greater for smaller engines
  2. The real life fuel consumption of small engine cars is worse than both medium-sized and large engines

The reason is that most users push their car far beyond what the official economy tests do which changes the rules of the game considerably. Thrashed small turbo engines have to work very hard to produce the required power way outside the optimal range of their operating conditions. But larger displacement engines tolerate being pushed hard a lot better and, on the road, deliver better mileage. Additionally, the stop-start systems which stop the engine when car comes to a standstill do very little to improve real life fuel economy – they were invented purely to take advantage of the numerous stop-start sequences in the official laboratory testing regime.

Ok, so if we cannot save fuel by choosing a car with a small turbo engine what can we do? Before you look at exotic tricks like over inflating tyres consider the number one recommendation published by The Telegraph:


Yes, the most effective way to save on gas is very low tech – do not turn on the ignition! Plan your day to minimise car trips, purchase whatever you can online not at the counter, do groceries on the way back from work (and do not forget the bread – otherwise you will have to make an extra trip).

Despite the remarkably complex technology available these days some things in life remain simple.

Chairman Xi

October 19, 2017

The recent state-of-the-nation address by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping has officially confirmed what most people already expected. China is planning to replace the US as the most powerful nation in the World – economically, politically and militarily. Something that even 20 years ago would have been viewed as a fanciful dream is becoming a reality. This post will look at how and why the West is about to get knocked off its perch.

The most telling part of Xi’s statement is that China does not intend to emulate the West’s political system. This makes perfect sense – to get where the West is now China needs to adopt the solutions the West had used to achieve its current dominance, not the policies it is employing at the moment. What made the West incredibly successful and allowed it to project both hard and soft power to all corners of the World was free-market economy. We need to realise that at present China, although nominally communist, is in fact much more capitalist than any country in the West. This is precisely why it has enjoyed phenomenal rate of unbroken economic growth in the last few decades and is now positioning itself to overtake the Old World. It is the capitalism, stupid!

For the readers of the blog who are too young to know what I am talking about, pure capitalism is a system based on free exchange of goods and services, which limits the government intervention to the matters of public safety and national defence. The closest the West got to it was the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the 19th century US. The problem with capitalism is that the smart and resourceful will get very wealthy while others will not, leading to social tensions fuelled by jealousy. Socialism successfully explored the fractures created by unequal distribution of wealth. Where socialism sparked revolutions (like in Russia, China, Cuba or Cambodia) the citizens quickly became equal but only in their shared misery. All other developed countries suffered a creeping influence of socialist ideas which, eventually, put the West in its current position. So what exactly killed the economic vitality of the Old World?

As individuals, families, social groups or whole countries get comfortable in their success they also become keen to legislate security. But any policy aimed at forcing a particular social outcome goes against the spirit of capitalism and blunts its entrepreneurial thrust. While it may sound morally comforting to fight racism, sexism, discrimination or take from the rich to support the poor all these interventions will hit the growth rate and, eventually, lead to stagnation. If the equality of access to all opportunities on offer were conducive to maximum growth it would have naturally emerged in a capitalist economy, without the need for government intervention. But if we have to legislate to make employers pay taxes for those who do not work, offer child-rearing leaves to both men and women and print fat content on bottled water it is precisely because all those actions kill economic growth. And when tax intake dwindles, to keep funding the bloated social programs, welfare states have to borrow. This is where the West is at present – visionless, overregulated and burdened by debt.

China’s rise to prominence is remarkable because it used the very handicap that had held it back – state authoritarianism – to suppress the social dissent created by wealth inequality. While a socialist revolution in a communist country is unthinkable the Chinese leadership made sure that the rich were allowed to get richer unmolested, making the poor less poor in the process. The stats of China having lifted 500 million of its citizens out of poverty are staggering. This is as perfect an example of benign dictatorship as we will ever see. Compared to China’s effort at eradicating poverty the pathetic, ideologically-driven and ultimately counter-productive actions of the likes of UN are a disgrace.

I wish the communist-capitalist China all success on its path. I also wish the West courage to analyse its failures with a view to reign in the unaffordable welfare programs and re-create conditions for growth.




Is Trump a madman or a genius?

August 23, 2017

Along with most of the human population, I have been struggling to find a frame of reference to look at the phenomenon of Donald Trump. To say that Trump has broken all political conventions is stating the obvious but it does not by itself answer the title question of this post. Arguably, it was following the established conventions of international politics that burdened the World with the multiple crises of ISIS, unending war in Afghanistan, nuclear North Korea, refugees flooding Europe etc. It has also instituted political correctness as a de facto speech code of the media, to the detriment of the quality of public discourse. Trump challenges this status quo and the fact he is still there seven months into the most tumultuous presidency in the recent US history forces us to consider the possibility that he is not as mad as most people think.

In the post published in November 2016 I stated that I did not like him much but:

“At some point (…) I started feeling admiration for Trump who singlehandedly took on the whole political establishment of the US. Facing pathetically biased coverage in the media, condemned to defeat by the pundits, dumped on by feminists, Marxists, LGBT crowd and activists of all sorts he just carried on. His persistence was so impressive he earned my genuine respect.”

Donald Trump has not mellowed and his war with the Fake News merchants and politically correct pundits is still in full swing. But, much as I commented, he seems completely unaffected by the incredible pressure piled on him from all angles and has even managed to get a few things done. So what are Trump’s words and actions – as opposed to the mainstream media commenting on the style of his presidency – telling us about whether he is a madman or a genius?

  1. As the multiple investigations into Trump’s purported collusion with the Russian government are scraping the bottom of the barrel his consistent denials of any impropriety are looking more and more credible. Nothing that has played out in the public arena leads me to believe that a collusion – in any definable sense of the word – has taken place. The relentlessly biased, hair-splitting, self-referencing, hysterical media coverage amplifying and endlessly regurgitating every possible rumour suggesting collusion between Putin and Trump is now looking demonstrably silly. Trump on the other hand is likely to come out of it clean. Genius.
  2. One would think that, faced with so much external pressure, Trump would gather the few remaining faithfuls around him, circle the wagons and assume a defensive position inside the White House but this is not what has happened. He is still willing to fire whoever displeases him and keeps jabbing the Fake News outlets. It defies belief that a newcomer to the world of US politics with shaky support from the party he represents keeps turning against both his own men and the mainstream media the way Trump does. Mad.
  3. If anything, Trump’s war with the politically correct speech code is intensifying. In the aftermath of Charlottesville he deliberately violated the cardinal rule of the western public life which states that anything right-wing/white/male/heterosexual/Christian must be condemned outright before any nuanced criticism of the opposite views is allowed to be expressed. Progressive elements in all their guises – including the Antifa thugs – are always morally superior to the exponents of conservative views. Regardless of what had actually happened in Charlottesville Trump had little to win by stating that the blame was shared by both sides and, predictably, he got crucified by everyone. Mad.
  4. In February 2017 in a one-on-one closed door meeting with Comey Trump passed a hint of a suggestion to drop the investigation into Flynn’s Russian affair. This exchange documented by Comey in a contemporaneous memo gave the impression Trump got dangerously close to attempting the obstruction of justice. What was he thinking? Mad.
  5. For someone new to international politics Trump’s achievements are nothing short of remarkable. He punished Assad for using chemical weapons (something Obama never had guts to do), engineered a partial ceasefire in Syria with Putin, held his own in the rhetorical confrontation with Kim and now delivered a new plan of action for Afghanistan which appears to be reasonable. Trump made the unpredictability ascribed to him by the media into an asset he uses during negotiations. Genius.
  6. Despite the public stunt of the CEOs abandoning Trump’s council the real judgement of his business policy is delivered by the US economy. The Dow Jones is at an all-time high 22% up from the election date (not that you will learn it from the CNN coverage) and the unemployment is very low. The money people see through Trump’s abrasive presidential style and have confidence he has what it takes to provide a stable environment for growth. Genius.
  7. From the beginning of his presidential campaign Trump faced the hostile mainstream media twisting his every word and depriving what he says of context. Yet, he managed to force the same media to deliver his statements to the US electorate verbatim and unaltered – 144 characters at a time. Genius.

While the jury is still out my count is 4:3 in favour of a genius. What is yours?



Collusion or delusion?

July 17, 2017


This post will present my views on the confused affair of Donald Jnr’s meeting with the Russians in June 2016.

The undisputed facts appear to be that on 3/6/16 Donald Jnr received an email from a Russian national he had had business dealings with in the past, offering some compromising information on Hillary Clinton purportedly originating from the Russian government. Less than 20 minutes later Donald Jr confirms he is interested. On 9/6/16 the meeting takes place with eight people present: three of the Trump campaign team and five Russian nationals. The public statements released by those who attended are consistent – it appears that when no substantive information on Hillary was offered the Trump team lost interest, Jared Kushner left the room after a few minutes and the remainder of the meeting was spent discussing issues around the adoption of Russian children by the US citizens. It also appears that there was no follow up on the meeting.

Rather than sifting through who said what during the meeting I will focus on the big picture. What was the intent of both parties going into the meeting, was the Russian leadership involved and, if so, what was their game plan? Of course this is only my speculation, based on the publicly available disclosures, common sense and my understanding of the shady world of politics.

First we must consider the most obvious possibility that Veselnitskaya was indeed working for the Russian government keen to offer some dirt on Hillary with the intent of helping Trump to get elected. This theory has a weakness which I consider fatal. If the Russian leadership went to the trouble of arranging the meeting with the Trump team why was no substantive information offered? They found a contact leading to Trump’s inner circle, managed to attract Jnr’s attention, got him and two other Trump’s hot shots to sit at the table with five Russian operatives and, well – nothing. Anyone trying to convince me that this is how in June 2016 Putin’s people were trying to help Trump will need to first explain why no meaningful information was provided. Also, if the intention was to discuss confidential and compromising details it is surprising that the Russian team swelled to five – I would expect sensitive information to be discussed with as few witnesses as possible.

I have two other theories which may better explain the real story behind the mysterious meeting.

It is completely possible that Veleniskaya made up the Clinton story to get Trump’s people into the room to discuss her pet project – the Magnitsky Act. She found a person connected to Donald Jnr (Goldstone), took a few random people with her to appear more credible, had no political information to offer and quickly moved on to discuss the adoptions. When that ploy failed she gave up and hence no follow up on the meeting.

The other possible explanation is that the Russian government did indeed send Velenitskaya to Trump Tower but their real intention was not to offer dirt on Hillary but rather to collect a dossier which could be used against Trump. They risked nothing because if Donald Jnr had showed no interest the meeting simply would not have taken place. As things unfolded, Jnr took the bait and the Russians ended up with a bombshell media package that could be (and was) released at the time of their choosing. Trump had the guts to challenge Putin at G20 and, in retaliation, got dealt a body blow by KGB.

I must make clear here that the Trump team showed serious naivety by going into the meeting with the Russians claiming to be Putin’s agents. Donald Jnr may have even broken the law by not reporting the initial contact to the FBI and Kushner absolutely should have declared the meeting in his security clearance. I trust that these transgressions will be investigated and acted on by the federal authorities. But to claim that their single short meeting amounted to “collusion” with the Russian government is laughable. If no sensitive information changed hands during or after the meeting no co-operation or conspiracy can be claimed to have existed so the likes of CNN and NYT have to keep looking for that elusive smoking gun.

Trump the leftie

January 24, 2017

The complexity of the modern World often defies simplistic labels used to describe it. One example of this is Donald Trump who, despite being universally despised by the Left, actually does quite a lot to advance their agenda. This post has been written for the benefit of my ultra-progressive friends who may be surprised to find an unlikely ally in the White House.

Donald Trump hit the Oval Office floor running. His first executive order pulled the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (also known as TPPA). The Left has been fighting furiously to dismantle TPPA for years and I am surprised that they are not giving Trump any credit for his decisive action. It should make no difference what ideological corner he is boxing out of as long as what he does aligns with the will of the proletariat, right? Obama did his level best to advance the globalist agenda but he has now vacated the taxpayer-funded accommodation in Washington. Hillary Clinton, anointed by Obama as his successor, is on record saying that TPPA is a “golden standard” for trade agreements so I am not sure where she stands on the issue. And then, out of the blue (errr – red, actually), comes Trump and destroys TPPA with a stroke of a pen on the first working day of his presidency. This should endear him with the Marxists of the World who have united for the very same cause.

In a more general sense Trump favours national protectionism over a global, free-market economy. He is happy to introduce tariffs on the imported products putting the US industry out of business. Again, this is something the likes of Communists and Greens (excuse the linguistic redundancy) have been campaigning for for years. The fate of the workers in the Rust Belt of the US should be close to the heart of every caring leftie but now Trump is prepared to stand up for the dispossessed and his commitment should be recognised. It is true that the German proletariat will suffer if the US introduces tariffs on BMW cars to protect the American proletariat working for GM but this is a subtlety anti-globalists never worried about so why bring it up now, just because the guy pushing for the tariffs does not wear a beret with a star?

Donald Trump is also happy to confront China on the trade issues. Abuses of the workers’ rights, prison labour, price dumping and other dodgy practices in China have been in the cross-hairs of the caring lefties for a long time. Unfortunately, the previous US regime was not prepared to touch the issue so it is good someone with bigger cahunas is now inhabiting the White House. Let us hope that, with the support of the labour rights movement and other Marxists, Trump will be able to exert enough pressure on China to force some changes. Both the Chinese workforce and those in other countries whose  jobs are threatened because of cheap imports should benefit from it.

In another development Trump broke the long-standing tradition of pussyfooting around China’s sensitivities by talking on the phone with the Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-Wen. It is something the previous US presidents, including the folk hero Obama, were too scared to do. This brave step by Trump may open the door for confronting China on the other two of the three “T’s” which were considered off limits for any discussion – Tibet and Tienamen . If things go well maybe even the brazen Chinese expansionism in the disputed maritime areas can be given some air? The human rights NGO’s in the West have been decrying the fact no one was prepared to stand up to China so good on Trump for raising his voice. It is also significant that it made no difference to him the Taiwan’s president who called him is in fact a woman. So much for Trump’s alleged misogyny, which so agitated the feminists during the presidential campaign.

But most importantly of all, Trump was prepared to listen to the concerns and fears of the ordinary Americans and devised his political program to address them. This is why he won the elections humiliating the much favoured Clinton team. The story of an underdog defeating an inbred political establishment has echoes of the Bolshevik coup d’état,  1933 German election or Cuban Revolution and should strike a chord in every progressive heart. Well done comrade Trump!

I hope the above examples show that Donald Trump is not a barbarian simpleton but rather a pragmatic politician who has picked the policies that resonate with the mainstream Americans and is prepared to carry through at least some of them, including the contentious ones. There should be no harm in the lefties supporting and praising him for making the changes which align with the progressive agenda.


Where does Go go? (3)

December 28, 2016

In March 2016 AlphaGo computer program defeated the top human player Lee Sedol. During their match AlphaGo was much more powerful than during the games it had played against Fen Hui a few months prior. This was because AlphaGo had been playing a lot of practice games over that period. About two million a day to be precise. And it played them against itself.

AlphaGo utilises a programming feature mimicking the way human brain functions known as neural networks. Without going into too much detail it has two modules assessing the current board position which it used to work out the best move. But more importantly, AlphaGo can learn from the outcome of the games it plays against itself. This way it evolves much like humans do – it gets better at playing Go every single day.

When AlphaGo defeated Fan Hui in 2015 the experts predicted that a world beating Go playing computer program was still a decade away. In fact it only took under a year which shows that the progress in the development of artificial intelligence surpasses all expectations. The next challenge for computers is the Turing test – being able to pass as a human in a casual conversation. I doubt if it takes another decade.


Where does Go go? (2)

December 12, 2016

Due to the incredible complexity of the game of Go the computer programs playing it could not utilise the brute force approach which has cracked chess. The method used by most Go programs instead is known as Monte Carlo tree search. The name is quite apt in that the algorithm runs through possible play sequences (game tree) using a random generator of moves (like a roulette in a Monte Carlo casino).

Instead of applying any strategic thought most Go computer programs start from the current board position and play millions of games consisting of completely random moves made by both players. When each games finishes the result is stored in the cells of computer memory corresponding to the moves selected. After millions of searches a picture is beginning to emerge of which move about to be made by the computer tends to statistically end up with a high probability of the computer winning – in multiple random sequences of games played to the end.

It is important to note that a Go program relying on Monte Carlo tree search does not need to “know” anything about the strategy of the game. It only needs to know which moves are legal (even if completely nonsensical) and play enough random simulations to arrive at statistically significant conclusions. This approach is devoid of any analysis and, predictably, Monte Carlo programs are not great at playing Go. While they reached a decent amateur level a while ago they had no chance against Go professionals who spend their lives studying the intricacies of the game and developing strategies to play it.

The challenge for the programmers was to improve the performance of the Monte Carlo algorithm by adding more Go-specific depth to it. The breakthrough was finally made by the DeepMind software team formed around 2014 and funded by Google. In October 2015 their creation, AlphaGo, managed to beat a competent professional player Fan Hui by 5 games to 0. The Go community was perplexed but most experts still believed AlphaGo stood no chance against a top human player. This was proved wrong when in March 2016 AlphaGo defeated a top ranking Go champion Lee Sedol by 4 games to 1. Following this match the program was awarded an honorary rank of 9 dan – the highest awarded to any human player.

So how did AlphaGo manage to deafeat Lee Sedol? Read on to find out!

Where does Go go? (3)


Where does Go go? (1)

December 6, 2016

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!

Where does Go go? (2)