2016-03-10 (Thursday)

Today, I learned that:

The world is undergoing a constant evolution, and in the field of technology it seems more evident than ever.

Do you remember Deep Blue, the first computer to beat a human world champion in chess? It happened in 1996, when it won the first game of six against Garry Kasparov, although Kasparov came back and won the series with 4-2. But in 1997, Deep Blue got its revenge, winning a tough series of games with 3,5-2,5. Deep Blue was a joint project between IBM and Carnegie Mellon University. Kasparov accused IBM of cheating and demanded a rematch, but IBM denied it. Later it was the inverse, IBM challenged Kasparov again, in vain. However, Deep Blue gave inspiration to other chess playing programs and nowadays it is quite common to see human chess players go up against their virtual opponents. See also reference #1 below.


To the left: Deep Blue (photo by James the photographer – http://flickr.com/photos/22453761@N00/592436598/), and to the right: Ken Jennings, Watson, and Brad Rutter in their Jeopardy! exhibition match (Wikipedia)

Then came Watson, yet another implementation from IBM. In 2011, a computer won the popular quiz game of Jeopardy! against the champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. IBM later continued development of Watson further into a commercial application for management decisions in lung cancer treatment, announced in 2013, see reference #2 below, and an update in January 2016 (reference # 3 below) gives more recent examples of where Watson is finding applications for its skills.

Both Deep Blue and Watson are good examples of what is commonly called Artificial Intelligence (AI), and yesterday, 2016-03-09, represented another historic date for AI. This time, the application is playing the ancient Chinese boardgame Go, considered to be far more complex than chess. The British company Deep Mind started in 2010 to develop a computer system which purpose was to play Go the way no man (or machine) had ever done before. Google acquired the company in 2014 and here comes the graduation task for AlphaGo: beat the world’s leading Go player.

The series of best of 5 games, which is held in Seoul, started yesterday, when AlphaGo won the first game of Go against the world’s best player, the Korean Lee Sedol. Also in the second game, held today, AlphaGo defeated its opponent, and unless Sedol wins the remaining three games, we will have proof, once more, that well designed computers can beat the best players in the world in their respective specialities. The following images show the result of the first two games. For more information about the match and Go in general, see references #4 and #5 below.


The two first games of the historic match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, played in Seoul 2016-03-09–10. Graphic produced by Google.

Finally, although the machines are clever, do not forget that there are humans behind them, responsible for the programming. Reference #6 below talks about a case revealed today about how hackers were able to transfer US$ 81 million from the US Federal Reserve Bank in New York to Asia, completing thus 4 of the assigned 13 transfers. But on the fifth task, a routing bank in Germany detected a misspelling of “foundation” as “fandation”, which stopped the remaining US$ 850 million from getting stolen.

This reminds me of the old slogan for Esso gasoline to “put a tiger in the tank”. Such a procedure will not have any effect if there is “a jackass sitting behind the wheel” !!!

… That’s what I learned in school !


1: Deep Blue (chess computer)

2: Watson (computer)

3: The Rise Of Thinking Machines: How IBM’s Watson Takes On The World

4: AlphaGo’s ultimate challenge: a five-game match against the legendary Lee Sedol

5: Go (game)

6: Hackers tried and failed to steal a billion dollars from bank

+: What did you learn in school today ?


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