Start of a losing game?

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Start of a losing game?

My fifth-grade teacher believed using an abacus would help intelligence development for students. So my class had to learn how to use the abacus for an hour every day, even though it was not part of the regular curriculum. Every morning, we practiced using the abacus and were tested. The teacher would punish students who failed the test. I can still remember the voice of the teacher citing the problem and children answering in unison.

Back then, there was a television program called “Talent Show.” One of the talents frequently featured was an abacus genius or mental math genius. They would compete against an electronic calculator in the studio. The host would read a series of numbers to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and the contestants would compete against the calculator on how fast they can get the right answer. As the program was focused on the amazing talents of the people, the human genius always won. The host would gush out praise for human abilities, and the viewers and audience would think, “After all, machines cannot defeat humans.”

But belief in the superiority of humans was broken long ago. On Feb. 5, a robot named LDRIC made a hole-in-one on a par-3 hole at the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open. On the fifth try, the robot aced the 120-meter (390-foot) hole. As a golfer who has never made a birdie, I envied the robot. In 2013, Lionel Messi appeared on a Japanese television program and failed to score a single goal in a penalty-kick showdown against a robot goalkeeper.

On Jan. 28, British journal Nature reported that AlphaGo - a computer Go program developed by DeepMind - the Google-owned artificial intelligence company, beat Fan Hui, a 2-dan Chinese-born European Go champion, five out of five times. AlphaGo will play against Korean player Lee Se-dol (pictured) for a $1 million prize. Lee, a 9-dan (the highest rank) player, as well as the entire Go community in Korea, is confident about victory against the program. However, DeepMind announced that the prize would be donated to charities if AlphaGo wins.

In the battle between humans and machines, humans started against simple calculators and then to sensor-based robots to artificial intelligence. I am a bit anxious about the possibility of AlphaGo’s triumph. My anxiety is based on concerns about AI. We have seen the destruction and hostility of artificial intelligence in movies like “Blade Runner” and “Terminator.” Dr. Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk warned that artificial intelligence may be a threat to humanity.

Yuval Harari, the author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” wrote, “We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles, but nobody knows where we’re going. … Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever.” Lee Se-dol may win or lose against AlphaGo. But it is not the result of the match that is important. If we don’t know where we are headed, humans have started a losing game.

The author is head of the digital newsroom at JTBC.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 15, Page 30

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