Monday, May 12, 2014

Crazy Stone and Zen

Wired is running just a super article on the current state of affairs in computer programs that attempt to play Go: The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win.

I'm less than a rank amateur at Go: I know the rules, and can read and enjoy beginner's books on simple Tesuji, and can somewhat follow a game as it is played, but really I only know enough to know how little I know.

But no matter how much you know about Go, I think you'll really enjoy this article.

The trouble is that identifying Go moves that deserve attention is often a mysterious process. “You’ll be looking at the board and just know,” Redmond told me, as we stood in front of the projector screen watching Crazy Stone take back Nomitan’s initial lead. “It’s something subconscious, that you train through years and years of playing. I’ll see a move and be sure it’s the right one, but won’t be able to tell you exactly how I know. I just see it.”

Similarly inscrutable is the process of evaluating a particular board configuration. In chess, there are some obvious rules. If, ten moves down the line, one side is missing a knight and the other isn’t, generally it’s clear who’s ahead. Not so in Go, where there’s no easy way to prove why Black’s moyo is large but vulnerable, and White has bad aji. Such things may be obvious to an expert player, but without a good way to quantify them, they will be invisible to computers. And if there’s no good way to evaluate intermediate game positions, an alpha-beta algorithm that engages in global board searches has no way of deciding which move leads to the best outcome.

On my recent trip to South Korea, we found ourselves waiting a little while in Incheon Airport for our plane home. While we waited for our group of rows to board, my attention drifted over to one end of the waiting room, where a group of people were gathered around a big screen TV watching a professional sporting event.

I wandered a little bit closer, and it turned out that they were watching a professional match between two female Go players, one Korean, one Chinese, who were two of the top players in the world.

I stood, rapt, with dozens of other spectators, engrossed in the beauty of the game, and the complexity of trying to understand what moves they were playing, and why.

It went totally over my head, but it was oh so fun anyway.

Read. Learn. Enjoy.

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