In context: We've seen Google's DeepMind AI reach some pretty impressive milestones over the years. It's proven capable of beating human StarCraft 2 players, it can diagnose eye diseases with the accuracy of 'world-leading' doctors, and DeepMind's AlphaGo system managed to unseat the top Go champions throughout the world.
That last set of victories is closely tied to the topic of today's news. South Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol, who was first beaten by AlphaGo back in 2016, has announced his decision to retire from professional play entirely, putting an end to a nearly 24-year-long career.
In a somber statement, Lee said the primary reason for his decision is the undefeatable nature of AI – no matter how good a human player gets, he suggests, an AI will always top them eventually. "With the debut of AI in Go games, I've realized that I'm not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts," he said in an interview with South Korean news agency Yonhap. "Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated."
When Lee faced off against AlphaGo a couple years back, he only managed to score one win against the formidable AI. Still, that was an impressive feat in and of itself, and the fact that this victory came on the back of three consecutive losses speaks to Lee's resolve and skill. It would be easy for a lesser contender to simply give up, or play poorly due to frustration and low morale.
"Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated."
There are certainly plenty of questions one could raise about the validity of an AI taking part in competitive gaming tournaments (digital or otherwise) against humans, and it's unfortunate to see a top-tier Go player retire due to this dilemma. Still, Lee seems to have come to terms with his new reality.
Moving forward, he says he will be focusing on spending time with his family and "resting." He will be playing one final celebratory match against the HanDol Go-playing AI next month, however.
Lee will be in good company following his departure from the Go scene – AlphaGo itself retired from competitive play in 2017 after beating the world's top player (not Lee).
We wish Lee all the best, and we'll be interested to see the other effects DeepMind – and AI in general – might have on competitive gaming down the line.
Image credit: International Business Times