Google's DeepMind robot becomes world-beating chess grandmaster in four hours

AlphaGo Zero can learn how to beat world champions at chess inside a day

AlphaZero was instructed only on the ruleset of chess and nothing more. With these newly acquired skills, AlphaZero successfully beat Stockfish, the world's reigning champion for chess playing programs. It was also able to master earlier versions of itself at Go, a Chinese board game, after eight hours of self-training, winning 60 out of 100 games.

"Many have become chess masters; no one has become the master of chess". And maybe the rest of the world did, too.

AlphaZero, the programme based on Go-winning AlphaGo, triumphed over the chess-playing engine Stockfish within just four hours and outperformed Elmo, a similar engine but for shogi, in just two.

The system works almost identically to AlphaGo Zero, but instead of playing Go, the machine is programmed to play chess and shogi. DeepMind's past successes have largely centered around the system's ability to learn complex strategy games and subsequently trounce human opponents. Essentially, AlphaZero acquired 1,400 years of human chess knowledge - and then some - on its own, and in a ludicrously short amount of time.

For now, Google and DeepMind's computer scientists aren't commenting publicly on the new research, which hasn't as yet been peer-reviewed. Moreover, it taught itself how to play few games including Space Invaders and Pong. And this was after "learning" chess in just four hours.

The greatest chess matches are no longer played by mere mortals comprised of flesh, bone, and blood, but sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) schemes. The system is armed with the rules to the game, but it has zero chess playing experience. In their new paper, the team showcases how the very latest AlphaZero AI takes this self-playing method - called reinforcement learning - and mixes it with a much more generally-applicable frame of thought. The last 72 games were a draw with AlphaZero recording no losses and Stockfish recording no wins. AlphaZero's favourite openings included the English Opening, the Queen's Gambit (my personal favourite), and the Queen Pawn Game.

"I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on Earth and showed us how they played chess", Peter Heine Nielsen, a chess grandmaster, told the BBC. "I feel now I know".

Stockfish 8 had previously won 2016's Top Chess Engine Championship. Only time will tell.

Chess enthusiasts have been impressed with the program's immediate dominance. In the 1990s, Russian chess master Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM's supercomputer, Deep Blue. But this achievement is impressive in that the same system and computational architecture used to win at Go was leveraged for use in other domains, namely chess and shogi. It may be studying fewer positions, but it's looking for the most promising ones, an approach that worked against Stockfish.

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