“It’s not a human move.”
What shocked the grandmasters watching Lee Sedol, one of the world’s top Go players, lose to a computer on Thursday was not that the computer won, but how it won. A pivotal move by AlphaGo, a project of Google AI subsidiary DeepMind, was so unexpected, so at odds with 2,500 years of Go history and wisdom, that some thought it must be a glitch.
Lee’s third game against AlphaGo is this Saturday. (It may be over by the time you read this.) Even if man recovers to beat the machine, what we will remember is that moment of bewilderment. Go is much more complex than chess; to play it, as DeepMind’s CEO explained, AlphaGo needs the computer equivalent of intuition. And as Sedol discovered, that intuition is not of the human kind.
A classic fear about AI is that the machines we build to serve us will destroy us instead, not because they become sentient and malicious, but because they devise unforeseen and catastrophic ways to reach the goals we set them. Worse, if they do become sentient and malicious, then—like Ava, the android in the movie Ex Machina—we may not even realize until it’s too late, because the way they think will be unrecognizable to us. What we call common sense and logic will be revealed as small-minded prejudices, baked in by aeons of biological and social evolution, which trap us in a tiny corner of the possible intellectual universe.
But there is a rosier view: that the machines, sentient or not, could help us break our intellectual bonds and see solutions—whether to Go, or to bigger problems—that we couldn’t imagine otherwise. “So beautiful,” as one grandmaster said of AlphaGo’s game. “So beautiful.”—Gideon Lichfield
Correction: Friday’s Daily Brief said that US daylight savings time begins on Monday at 2am ET. In fact, it begins on Sunday (March 13) at 2am. And it does not create “more daylight in US hours.” Sorry about that.
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Inside Instacart’s fraught attempt to become the Uber of groceries. Venture capital has poured money into businesses that provide everything from food to home cleaning on demand. Alison Griswold profiles Instacart, a $2 billion “unicorn,” whose travails show the model works only in very particular circumstances.
Charting China’s Great Famine. China banned Yang Jisheng, author of the book Tombstone, which chronicled the policies that caused 36 million Chinese to die of hunger, from traveling to the US this week to accept an award. Zheping Huang turned Yang’s data into charts that show the grim economic reality of Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Plus: the text of the speech Yang didn’t get to give.
Michel Foucault predicted Europe’s refugee crisis. Forty years ago the philosopher argued that as rich states got better at protecting the health and well-being of their own populations, they’d work harder to exclude outsiders who weren’t entitled to the same benefits. That, says Stephan Baele, is exactly what we’re seeing now.
The economics of Trumpism. It’s been said before that Donald Trump’s rise is a product of economic alienation. Here Matt Phillips analyzes what that means: three decades of destruction of the American middle class. Plus, he interviews economist Robert Gordon on another, related sign of economic decline: the stalling of the productivity growth that America has enjoyed for 150 years.
Interviews with Martians. Six people are halfway through a year living in a sealed dome on the slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, to simulate the conditions of a Mars mission. For this video, Michael Tabb interviewed them (even enduring the simulated 20-minute communication delay) about the thrills and frustrations of life on nearly-Mars.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Get into Obama’s head. Why is the US president proud that he reversed his promise to attack the Syrian army if it used chemical weapons? Is ISIL really like the comic-book villain The Joker? Over several interviews, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg asked president Barack Obama to explain the foreign-policy doctrine that angers opponents and exasperates even his own advisers, and comes away with a unique portrait of Obama’s worldview.
Life after journalism. Journalists write many articles about the decline of newspapers and the loss of political accountability. Strangely, they write far fewer about other journalists who can no longer get work. Dale Maharidge at Moyers & Co interviews ex-newshounds who are struggling to make ends meet, and their stories are as tough and sad as those of any Detroit auto-worker or Newcastle miner in previous eras.
The economic betrayal of the millennial generation. Thirty years ago, under-35s had, on average, more disposable income than older generations. Now, they earn up to 20% less, in the large economies analyzed for the Guardian by Caelainn Barr and Shiv Malik. Italy fares the worst: Millennials there have less disposable income than pensioners over 80.
Here comes the treatment-industrial complex. As America prepares to reduce its mass incarceration, private companies are stepping in to profit from what will replace it: “community corrections,” programs of monitoring, rehab, and house arrest. Arjun Sethi and Cate Graziani in Politico argue that this setup risks perpetuating the same abuses and racial disparities as the prison system does, just in a different setting.
If you want to stick to your goals, mess them up a bit. Modern-day culture tends to validate the pursuit of perfection. But research suggests that people are much more likely to find success if they allow themselves some setbacks, as Cody Delistraty writes in Aeon. So take a cue from Benjamin Franklin, and chill.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Martian chronicles, and stories of setbacks to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.