AlphaGo can continue to improve, playing against itself, learning as it simulates. However, the real test will be—as Hassabis hinted at when the company first revealed AlphaGo in January—if the algorithm can be adapted to complete other tasks apart from beating Go. Powerful programs that have beaten humans at tasks before tend to be very good only at one thing. Deep Blue could beat the reigning world chess champion, but would lose to a five-year-old at tic-tac-toe.

Hundreds of Chinese students playing Go—AlphaGo can acquire the same experience in a fraction of the time.
Hundreds of Chinese students playing Go—AlphaGo can acquire the same experience in a fraction of the time.
Image: Reuters/China Daily

If AlphaGo could be adapted to find and exploit patterns in other information as effectively as it has done with Go, who knows what it could achieve? IBM’s Watson system uses a combination of machine learning and neural networks to similarly find patterns in data, and IBM is slowly starting to apply it to a wide range of disciplines, from medicine and legal precedent, to finding good tacos and analyzing your fantasy football lineups.

But IBM insists that all these disciplines are separate, employed by separate companies and organizations for specific uses; they don’t feed back into one IBM-controlled super-Watson. Google, on the other hand, could look to apply AlphaGo’s ability to learn to solve problems and apply it to any number of situations in one massive digital brain. “Our belief at DeepMind, certainly this was the founding principle, is that the only way to do intelligence is to do learning from the ground up and be general,” Hassabis told The Verge in a recent interview.

Seeing as Google is moving to run its search algorithm—the largest repository of humanity’s collective consciousness—with artificial intelligence, perhaps it will be interested in creating a more holistic AI that can learn to understand just about anything it can get its virtual hands on. Perhaps, as the science-fictional movie Ex Machina suggested, the first true artificially intelligent being will be born out of our own Google searches.

And considering AlphaGo just completed an AI challenge that some researchers thought was at least another decade away, you might want to start thinking twice about what you tell Google.

Everyone look around today: If you see an exceedingly buff Austrian man with sharp sunglasses and a shotgun, make sure he’s not asking for anyone named John Connor. Today may be the day we remember as the beginning of the time where Google’s AI started to coalesce into consciousness, slowly figuring out that humans are imperfect and obsolete. Or maybe it’s just a day that AI researchers will long remember, but that actually just highlights one point on a yet-very-long journey ahead of them in attempting to create true artificial intelligence. But that’s not as good for the movie script.

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