Google's AI mastered chess in 4 hours

Image source Creative Commons  Pixabay

AlphaZero, the programme based on Go-winning AlphaGo, triumphed over the chess-playing engine Stockfish within just four hours and outperformed Elmo, a similar engine but for shogi, in just two. The software was first released in 2008 and has been built by volunteers in the years since. The new AI's programming did not include data for tactics or strategy specific to these games; rather, it was provided with some general rules and instructions for the game, no different than what a human might be provided their first time attempting chess or Go. In October, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis said, "If [AlphaZero] can be applied to other structured problems, such as protein folding, reducing energy consumption, or searching for revolutionary new materials, the resulting breakthroughs have the potential to drive forward human understanding and positively impact all of our lives".

That victory streak culminated in a startling success in October, in which a new fully autonomous version of the AI - which only learns by playing itself, never facing humans - bested all its former incarnations. But this AI learned through watching humans play, which introduced biases and mistakes.

That effort was meant to assist the fledgling AI in learning strategy, but it seems it may have actually been a handicap, since AlphaGo Zero's fully self-reliant learning proved devastatingly more effective in one-on-one competition.

"It's like an alien civilisation inventing its own mathematics". In their new paper, the team showcases how the very latest AlphaZero AI takes this self-playing method - called reinforcement learning - and mixes it with a much more generally-applicable frame of thought. Google's eventual goal is to create a sort of generic AI that can respond to and master a broader range of challenges. It was also able to master earlier versions of itself at Go, a Chinese board game, after eight hours of self-training, winning 60 out of 100 games.

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The research has not been peer reviewed yet. But for now, one thing is certain: AlphaZero made a lot of waves in the chess community.

"I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on Earth and showed us how they played chess", Peter Heine Nielsen, a chess grandmaster, told the BBC.

Who knows, maybe AlphaZero will be the computer to finally crack chess forever.

The details about the Google's feat were published on the Arvix website of the Cornell University.

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