Humanity has been given another chance to redeem itself: Google’s Go-playing computer will compete against the world’s best Go player, Ke Jie, before the year is out.
The decision is a change of heart for Ke, who is 18 and comes from China. Ke initially boasted that he could beat the AlphaGo machine, which sounds like big talk, but then told Chinese news media that he didn’t want to play because it would copy his playing style.
Earlier this year, AlphaGo won 4-1 against Go grandmaster Lee Sedol, a development that many hailed as a huge leap for artificial intelligence on the one hand, and on the other hand had South Korea (where Sedol is from) freaking out and then deciding to invest $860 million in the AI industry. Though computers have long been able to win games—it’s been almost 20 years since Deep Blue beat chess champion Garry Kasparov—the match was a big deal because Go is a much more complicated game than chess. Since Sedol’s loss, others have wanted to try their luck (or skill) against the machine, with a state-run Chinese newspaper announcing that it wants to pit its own engineers against AlphaGo.
When Sedol lost, Ke apparently changed his mind about trying his hand at playing AlphaGo. Though Ke is currently the world number one after beating Sedol to the title earlier this year, Engadget notes that Sedol is widely seen as “the Roger Federer of Go” because of his greater experience.
Because Ke and Sedol are probably fairly evenly matched in skill, the new game against AlphaGo may not mean too much. But now we get to see if Ke can beat AlphaGo, or even beat Sedol’s record, and then decide whether it’s time to take that Google AI kill switch more seriously.