Hollywood is notorious for sensationalizing stories on artificial intelligence (AI). Terminator 2, Ex Machina, Westworld, and Upload are just a few examples.
Truthfully, these are highly entertaining movies and shows. But AI has advanced far enough that it shouldn’t require a sci-fi film to attract an audience interested in this topic. Reality is compelling enough.
An excellent example is the documentary “AlphaGo,” a riveting film directed by Greg Kohs that tells the story of a group of engineers, researchers, and machine learning experts in the U.K. who created AI so powerful that it could compete in the board game Go against the best players in the world.
If you haven’t heard of Go, it’s an abstract strategy board game played by two players at a time. It was invented in China approximately 2,500 years ago (making it the oldest board game continually played). It’s played on a 19×19 grid, and the movie claims that there are more legal board positions in Go than the number of atoms in the known, observable universe.
Released in 2018 and now available on YouTube (it already has 12.9 million views), the film follows the group of engineers as they improve the AI leading up to a five-game series called The DeepMind Challenge Match. The showdown pits the AI against South Korean Lee Sedol, the best Go player in the world who is now retired.
The movie captures the buildup, drama, and fanfare surrounding the competition. Also, the underlying theme of man vs. machine is ever-present, with observers and commentators wondering about the implications if Sedol lost.
There’s also a human element considering the immense pressure that Sedol faced, with the hopes of a nation sitting on his shoulders. The film shows scenes of motorists and pedestrians watching the match unfold on jumbotron screens across Seoul, South Korea, and the cameras capture Sedol pacing outside during a break in the match to calm his nerves with a cigarette.
If you enjoy nerding out on AI, this film has something for you, too. The DeepMind engineers explain all of the dimensions that they built into the AI, as well as the probability models they created to determine the correct moves in the game.
Perhaps the best scene is near the end of the film when the engineers seem unsure how happy they should be that their technology has become so powerful. It’s an interesting dilemma that points to the overarching ethical considerations tied to the advance of AI.