Google’s Deepmind artificial intelligence has done what many thought it couldn’t: beat a grandmaster at the ancient Chinese strategy game Go. The “AlphaGo” program forced its opponent, 33-year-old 9-dan professional Lee Sedol, to resign three and a half hours into the first of their five-match battle. While Deepmind has defeated a Go champion before, it’s the first time a machine has beaten a world champion.
The result comes as a surprise, particularly after Sedol himself predicted a 5-0 whitewash. Despite the tough talk, the Korean told Associated Press reporters that he may slip up once — he’ll just have to hope that this is his one and only time. A $1 million prize is on the line, which AlphaGo will give to charity if it wins.
If you’re unfamiliar with Go, the game originated in China around 3,000 years ago. With its 19×19 board and black and white lens-shaped disks, called stones, Go is considered to be a lot more complex than Chess, a game that also hosted a man vs machine battle when IBM’s Deep Blue computer famously defeated world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997.
To prepare the system’s neural network, the AlphaGo team fed the computer 30 million moves from professional Go players so it could adopt its own strategies using a process of trial and error that is referred to in AI circles as reinforcement learning.
AlphaGo and Sedol will meet another four times this week but now that the computer has the edge, it only needs to win two more rounds to be crowned champion. You can see how the first match unfolded in the video embedded above, but be warned, it’s almost four hours long.