Mar 9, 2018

[Movies] AlphaGo (2017) Review

The modern equivalent of channel surfing for me tends to be skimming the documentaries section of Netflix in search of something to watch. Movies with a fictional story at their core run the risk of being disappointing on a number of levels. Most documentaries end up being at least decent, even if only becacuse the subject matter covers a topic you happen to be interested in.

AlphaGo was something that fell into the former category, but thankfully it turned out to be a well thought-out documentary as well. With the use of the term "aritificial intelligence" becoming pretty commonplace (and often misused), I can see how features like this can become interesting to a wider range of people.

For my part, my fascination with robots has naturally lead to an interesting in computers and the notion of artificial intelligence as a path for robotic creations to be a lot more useful. And while creating computer programs that can play various games of strategy may not seem like quite the same thing, it's certainly part of the longer journey.

Synopsis: AlphaGo is a documentary directed by Greg Kohs. The documentary focuses on AlphaGo, the computer program designed to play the the complex game of Go.

It is said that the game of Go has more board configurations than there are atoms in the universe according to the description blurb of this feature film. This complexity is why it has been a major challenge to the artificial intelligence community to create a program that can effectively play this game and manage to beat some of the best minds in the Go community.

On March 9, 2016 the DeepMind Challenge Match was held in South Korea pitting the world's first Go playing AI against one of the masters of the game. And as the world watch, this odd little program played some of the most interesting games of Go ever seen.

What I Liked: The team behind AlphaGo is a quirky one and one that are fun enough to watch at work within the documentary. The challenge before them was pretty great - mastering Go is more than just using past games as models for the best strategies. The sheer number of possibe moves and counter moves in Go is a lot more than Chess and so it's less about pattern recognition but more the ability to "think" and model different possible courses of action and choose the path that will most likely lead to success.

On the flip side the documentary managed to milk a lot of the drama on the human side of the equation or because of the people who faced this particular AI. Hearing the thoughts of these players on how the AI played really makes you think about how seriously they take the game and also what this development and AI could mean in the greater scheme of things. I was totally invested from start to finish.

What Could Have Been Better: Part of me had wished that more of the development of the program more than they had.Yes the explanation of the game of Go and why it's so difficult to adapt is important, but then it felt like we had leapt forward to when they started major testing with actual Go players and not just within the team.

For good or for ill, the drama during the actual tournament really gets ramped up - and it probably doesn't help that the champion Go player, Lee Sedol, certainly knows how to turn a phrase into something poetic. It's an interesting  approach, but it can also come aross as being a little too cheesy. But that's just how things go.

TL;DR: AlphaGo is an oddly fascinating little documentary piece that is both a celebartion of the game of Go and a celebration of the continued advances in artificial intelligence. The future seems pretty exciting with great innovators like the guys who came up with this program. And thus the movie gets a good 4 surprise moves by AlphaGo out of a possible 5.

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