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College of Arts and Sciences

One giant step for a chess-playing machine

By: Steven Strogatz,  in The New York Times
December 26, 2018

In this New York Times essay, mathematics professor Steven Strogatz discusses the accomplishments of AlphaZero, a machine-learning algorithm created by Google's parent company, that had mastered chess, Japanese chess and Go with the help of advances in machine learning.

"By playing against itself and updating its neural network as it learned from experience, AlphaZero discovered the principles of chess on its own and quickly became the best player ever," Strogatz writes. "Not only could it have easily defeated all the strongest human masters — it didn’t even bother to try — it crushed Stockfish, the reigning computer world champion of chess."

Strogatz said that AlphaZero won by thinking smarter, not faster.

"Most unnerving was that AlphaZero seemed to express insight," he writes. "It played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and took risks. In some games it paralyzed Stockfish and toyed with it."

Read the complete New York Times essay.