Documentary, not rated, 90 minutes, in English and Korean with subtitles,
According to Frank Lantz, director of the NYU Game Center, playing Go “is like putting your hand on the third rail of the universe.” Go is a board game for two players. It’s contemplative, takes concentration, and is the Chinese answer to chess, only older (the game, invented more than 2,500 years ago, is the world’s oldest continuously played board game). But director Greg Kohs’ documentary on the classic game of strategy is less about the game itself or the people who play it than it is about artificial intelligence. Go is considered the ultimate test for AI, since, in the modern age, games and computers go hand in hand.
The game, whose players devote hours on end to obsessive competition, is simple in theory. It’s played with small black-and-white stones. Points are gained by surrounding your opponent’s stones and removing them to obtain more territory for yourself. The person with the most territory at the game’s end wins. But its simplicity is deceptive. It’s been notoriously difficult for techies to program computers to play it, because it has far more possible moves and a seemingly endless number of possible board configurations (more than there are atoms in the universe, states one programmer in the film) when compared with other games.
The answer for the programmers at DeepMind, a company owned by Google, was to design a system that taught itself how to play, rather than have humans try to teach it. The result is successful and the AI machine AlphaGo was born. Fan Hui, a champion Go player, goes against it in a tournament and loses every game. This leads to skepticism about his abilities, so Lee Sedol, a young South Korean player considered to be among the world’s top-tier Go strategists, tries his hand with the program in what turns out to be an intriguing, disconcerting, but excitingly told story about the possibilities for AI. The question at the film’s heart is what it means for the future of humankind when computers can outsmart us. But the documentary also waxes philosophical on what it actually means to be human.
— Michael Abatemarco