It’s Korean versus machine in 5-day Go match

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It’s Korean versus machine in 5-day Go match

Demis Hassabis, CEO and co-founder of Google DeepMind, said his team is “confident” about winning the historic Go tournament against world champion Lee Se-dol scheduled to kick off tomorrow.

Talking to a group of reporters at Incheon International Airport upon his arrival on Monday, the 39-year-old British polymath reeled back an earlier comment that the chance of artificial intelligence (AI) program AlphaGo winning over a human was half and half. Lee said on Feb. 23 that he was confident of his victory over Google’s self-learning algorithm.

The way Lee plays the ancient Chinese board game is “very creative and interesting,” said Hassabis, a former chess prodigy himself. He added that the five-day match is going to be “fantastic.”

When asked by reporters about the current state of AlphaGo - it is able to learn over time - Hassabis refrained from giving an answer, only saying that “we will see.”

The team responsible for the Google Challenge Match has been staying in Seoul over the past week and has completed tests on all the necessary features, including network connections, according to the CEO.

The five-day tournament pitting man against his most intelligent machine is receiving attention from across the globe. The event has become an enormous opportunity for Google to boast of its own evolution from search engine to dominant player in the field of artificial intelligence.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, surpassed Apple’s market capitalization on Feb. 2 to become the world’s most valuable public company.

And yet humans believe - or wish to believe - they are superior to any AI system, however quickly-evolving. The Korea Press Foundation said on Monday that its poll of 1,038 adults nationwide showed 56.3 percent of them predicted Lee would defeat the program. Of them, 12.9 percent forecast the Korean Go master would triumph in all five matches of the tournament. Some 43.4 percent answered Lee would win at least three matches. Only 11.3 percent of respondents predicted a sweep of victories by AlphaGo.

The five matches will run from tomorrow to March 15 - on March 9, March 10, March 12, March 13 and March 15 - at the plush Four Seasons Hotel in central Seoul.

Lee and AlphaGo will each be given a maximum time limit of two hours, according to Google Korea, which means each match could last up to five hours.

Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and Alphabet’s current executive chairman, is set to arrive in Seoul today to watch one of the most high-profile matches in history.

His visit to Seoul comes only five months after he showed up for the opening ceremony of the Google Campus in southern Seoul. He has no official schedule during his stay.

Jeff Dean, a legendary computer scientist and software engineer who has assumed a Google Senior Fellow post, also came to Seoul on Monday and met with a few Korean engineers and start-up founders. He is scheduled to meet with the Korean press on Wednesday.

The winner will receive a $1 million prize. If AlphaGo wins, DeepMind will donate the prize to Unicef, STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math) education, and Go-related charities.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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