Computer beats Go professional in a five game whitewash

Today, 27th January 2016, we issued a Press Release titled Major Step Forward in Artificial Intelligence which stated in part:

A computer program developed by Google DeepMind (AlphaGo) to play the Oriental game of Go has beaten the three-times European Go Champion and Chinese professional Fan Hui. This is the first time that a Go-professional has lost such a match, and not only that, by a clean sweep in all 5 games. This signifies a major step forward in one of the great challenges in the development of artificial intelligence - that of game-playing.

These findings were reported in a peer-reviewed study published in the scientific journal Nature: Silver D. et al. Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search. Volume 529, issue 7587, pp 484-489. (Only the abstract can be viewed free of charge.)

The British Go Association recognises the achievement by Google DeepMind. We congratulate them and look forward to the challenge it has issued to the top player in the world for the last 10 years, Lee Sedol from South Korea. This is scheduled to be played in Seoul in March.

Although we were not officially involved in the match between AlphaGo and Fan Hui (shown right in the photo, courtesy of Google DeepMind), Toby Manning, our Treasurer, was the Referee and observed the games closely. He says
"The games were played under full tournament conditions, and there was no disadvantage to Fan Hui in playing a machine not a man. Google DeepMind are to be congratulated in developing this impressive piece of software".

Our President, Jon Diamond, was one of the early researchers in Computer Go at London University some 40 years ago (see for some of the history) and says:
"Following the Chess match between Gary Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue in 1996 the goal of some Artificial Intelligence researchers to beat the top human Go players was an outstanding challenge, perhaps the most difficult one in the realm of games. It's always been acknowledged that the higher branching factor in Go compared to Chess and the higher number of moves in a game made programming Go an order of magnitude more difficult.

On reviewing the games against Fan Hui I was very impressed by AlphaGo's strength and actually found it difficult to decide which side was the computer, when I had no prior knowledge. Before this match the best computer programs were not as good as the top amateur players and I was still expecting that it would be at least 5-10 years before a program would be able to beat the top human players; now it looks like this may be imminent. The proposed Challenge may well be that day.

One significant aspect of this match was that AlphaGo analysed orders of magnitude fewer positions than Deep Blue did. DeepBlue also had a handcrafted evaluation function, which AlphaGo does not. These indicate the general improvements in AI techniques that Google DeepMind have achieved. This surely means that the technology behind it will be really useful in other knowledge domains."

An article by Toby Manning about the match, including the game records and comments, will appear shortly in the next British Go Journal, which should be with you in the next week. Because of the international significance of this match, we're publishing a publicly available version of this article online as well as the full Press Release on our website ( This also includes some quotes from Lee Sedol as well the President of the Korean Baduk Association.

We're pleased to say that Hajin Lee, a Korean professional and Secretary General of the International Go Federation, has contributed to the comments in Toby's article, and is also quoted, and that some of our members were part of the Google DeepMind team, which is based in London.

We're also happy to say that Google DeepMind are providing some sponsorship to us in recognition of our part in organising this match and their interest in growing the Go community.

Toby was interviewed last week by Nature and should also feature in a video that they're producing explaining the significance of this event and how to play Go! Jon and Hajin have been interviewed this week by a number of journalists and some other Association members have also been filmed. It will be interesting to see how many media articles this event will generate and how many new Go players!!

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Oh, and I almost forgot: copy on all media sightings and make sure that you go to your club, so that it's busy for the next few weeks and that you welcome all strangers and teach them how to play.

Last updated Thu May 11 2017. If you have any comments, please email the webmaster on web-master AT britgo DOT org.