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AlphaGo Review

By David Kempler

Going, Going, Gone

Go is a game that I'd never heard of before. Greg Kohs's documentary "AlphaGo", which had its premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, taught me the rules, but knowing the rules doesn't really help one become good at it. To be successful at it requires a type of genius.

The game was invented in China over 2,500 years ago and was considered one of the four essential arts of Chinese scholars. It's a board game consisting of two players. The aim is a simple one: surround your opponent's pieces with your pieces. While the aim of the game is simple, the strategy makes chess look like checkers. The number of moves players can make in Go supposedly has more possibilities than the total number of atoms in the visible universe.

Lee Sedol is acknowledged as the greatest Go player in the world. A group of engineers at Google were determined to build an AI program to beat him. "AlphaGo" is the story about how it played out, and it's as exciting as a top-notch Heavyweight title match in boxing.

The match was set up as a series of five games to be played in South Korea. Before it began, Sedol was supremely confident. He predicted a 5-0 sweep. At worst, he might lose one game, but he sincerely doubted that could happen. The designers of the AI program felt similarly about the outcome, because they were concerned that the program contained a bug that could sabotage their effort, and there wasn't time to fix it.

The matches attained a Super Bowl level of excitement, with 60 million people watching online, just in China. Analysts on television went wild with every move. Each move was examined like scientists who had just made a major discovery, and I admit to getting caught up in the excitement.

Kohs does a great job turning a board game into a life-and-death struggle. There are also moments of levity and you can feel how involved all of them are. "AlphaGo" is an awful lot of fun, and I can't imagine anyone not liking it. Go see "AlphaGo".

What did you think?

Movie title AlphaGo
Release year 2017
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary A documentary about a board game competition may not sound like much fun, but it is far more thrilling than you might ever imagine.
View all articles by David Kempler
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