The very human implications of a self-taught machine playing the world’s hardest game

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The ancient strategy game of Go may have met its ultimate match.

The brain-taxing board game is a little like an Eastern version of chess, except many times more complex. It has millions of devotees in China, Korea and Japan. Many of them tuned in today to watch an artificial intelligence computer built by Google’s DeepMind beat the world champion, Lee Sedol, in the first of a five-game contest.

Duels like these don’t come often. That’s because the vast majority of human-versus-machine contests are rarely worth watching at all.  Either the humans would so obviously win—try getting a machine to write jokes—or we’d so obviously lose. You wouldn’t run a race against a car, or try to out-hammer a steam drill.

But every once in awhile, a technological moment comes when the man-machine match-up gives us a fight worth watching. (Just ask John Henry.) DeepMind vs. Lee Sedol is one of those moments. But as the video above shows, the stakes of this week’s historic battle may not be what you think.

This video was produced in collaboration with Retro Report.