AlphaGo, a new approach to an old game.

AlphaGo, a new approach to an old game.

We love documentaries in our house. In fact, every Sunday night is devoted to cooking something exotic, squeezing together on the couch and watching whatever documentary suits our fantasy. We usually borrow DVD's from the library but there's also a good collection on YouTube and that's exactly where I came across the award winning, full length documentary, AlphaGo.


Now, if you're reading a blog on games, you've probably heard of Go... or Wei Qi... or Baduk... depending on what it's called in your favourite corner of Asia. It's an ancient game whereby you place your own pieces (either white or black stones) on the intersecting lines of a 19x19 grid.


There's really only two rules in Go. It's that simple. But the game opens up to such a wide expanse of play, it's considered a much greater challenge for AI than chess.


Rule 1: Each stone you place must have an adjacent free point, called a liberty, (a free space either up, down, left or right) or be connected to a group of stones of the same colour where at least one stone has a liberty. Stones cannot be moved but if a group of stones no liberty on any of their pieces, then they are captured and removed from the board.


Rule 2: No stone may ever be placed in a repeat position. In other words, if you had a white piece in a particular place and it was captured, you cannot place any more pieces in that intersection.


The scoring system itself is a little complicated but it really is all about territory captured where your opponent cannot play.


As a game, Go is interesting. As a challenge for AI, Go is an incredible achievement. I don't want to pre-empt what happens in the documentary but my kids were enthralled. We never expected to be on the edge of our seats waiting to see what the AI would come up with next. With over 27 million views, we were pretty sure we would enjoy this documentary. What we didn't expect was that we'd rush out and put a few sets of Go on back order. Definitely 10/10. If you're into games or computers, this one is a real treat!