Concepts such as insight and reflection were thought to be beyond a computer’s capability – but researchers using the world’s most powerful electronic brain Google’s AlphaZero say they are now convinced their machine is capable of human-type insight and thought. The concept of computers becoming self aware is the basis of swathes of science fiction and especially the series of Terminator films which see mankind fighting for its life against the machines. And in what might be considered as the real life Judgement Day, Google’s AlphaZero mastered chess in just under four hours even though it was not programmed as such – it “learned” the game.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day in the multi million dollar Hollywood series referenced the day ‘Skynet’ became self-aware and then wanted to exterminate mankind.
Skynet was the synthetic intelligence system in the movies that was part of the US “Global Defence Network” computer system and once activated, saw mankind as a threat.
A nuclear war ensued and chaos between surviving humans and ‘Terminators’ which Skynet was able to produce.
Developers consider AlphaZero’s developing intelligence a “turning point” in history as the system continues to show more and more signs of thinking like a human.
Grandmasters have been testing and analysing the machine and concluded it has developed a unique style of play which suggests it could be improvising like a human.
Stockfish is considered the world’s best chess machine by calculating millions of potential outcomes when it plays, but AlphaZero actually learns from past experiences.
Experts at Google’s DeepMind experimental department said they had discerned the system seems to have developed a “nebulous sense that it is all going to work in the long run.”
AlphaZero was matched up with Stockfish in 1000 games and lost only 6. It won 155 times and they tied the rest.
Developers were amazed at how AlphaZero played because it did not readily hold onto its chess piece like normal computers, but it quickly sacrificed soldiers for a better position.
Professor David Silver leads the reinforcement research group at DeepMind told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s got a very subtle sense of intuition that helps it balance out all the different factors.
“My personal belief is that we’ve seen something of a turning point where we’re starting to understand that many abilities, like intuition and creativity, that we previously thought were only human are actually accessible to machine intelligence as well. And I think that’s a really exciting moment in history.”
AlphaZero started as a ‘tabula rasa’ programmed with only basic rules of chess but learnt how to win by millions of games and repetition. This was a trial and error process also known as “reinforcement learning.”
This is closely linked to how a human learns, by adjusting according to prior wins or losses. In a few hours AlphaZero developed new ideas and strategies like placing less value in individual pieces.
While AlphaZero might never be capable of producing killing machines like the Terminator, it resembles technological advancement in a way researchers never thought possible.