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Google’s AlphaZero AI teaches itself Chess in four hours, then trounces world champion


Not directly pertaining to any PC game you might be playing, but worth a mention as you may be getting flattened by similar systems in the not-too-distant future. As reported on Chess.com, the world of Chess AI saw a major shakeup this week as Google’s upstart AlphaZero system went into a closed-door match against the previous world champion AI, Stockfish.

Despite only having four hours to teach itself the game from scratch, only knowing what constituted a valid move and its goal to capture the king, the results were shockingly one-sided, far moreso than anyone could have expected.

At least for the moment, humans have the advantage playing real-time strategy games. Bone up on some of our picks here, and you might stand a chance once AlphaZero inevitably becomes sentinent.

100 matches.

72 draws.

28 wins to AlphaZero. Nothing left over.

Stockfish reduced to fish stock.

Now, there were some mitigating factors, as the commenters on Chess.com are eager to point out. Stockfish wasn’t given the full range of processing power it normally has access to, and it didn’t have access to its normal book of opening moves, perhaps putting it at a disadvantage. Still, even detractors admit that AlphaZero probably would have won either way, although by a less massive margin if the fight was truly fair.

Still, nobody can deny that it was a complete rout, and for an encore performance, AlphaZero then went on to learn and master Japanese equivalent game Shogi, similarly stomping its resident grandmaster, an AI named Elmo. That’s one hell of a victory lap.

Chess is, of course, a game of relatively simple rules, played on a small board across a small number of turns, making it an ideal training ground for AIs. It’ll be some time before AlphaZero is able to master more complex systems, but it seems only a matter of time before it’s beating up Korean Starcraft teams for their lunch money.

As an interesting aside, one of the researchers writing up their finds on the AlphaZero vs Stockfish match is Demis Hassabis, formerly of Bullfrog and Elixir studios, and lead designer on PC classic Theme Park way back in the 90s.

AI and how it works in videogames is still a subject hugely misunderstood by many. So much of it in games played against humans is (by design) smoke and mirrors, with difficulty skewed as to provide a reasonable challenge but never overwhelming a human player, so no-holds-barred chess matches like this are especially valuable as case studies.

For those wanting to know a little bit more about how AI advancements might relate to what you’re currently playing, I highly recommend a trawl through Dr Tommy Thompson’s excellent AI And Games channel on YouTube.Did you know that the Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation has two brains that sometimes work against each other? If you’ve beaten the game, it’s a great look at what makes a monster tick.