Can machines think? Well, what does it mean 'to think'? Thinking about thought is a journey into philosophy. Instead Alan Turing asked a different question in 1950: can machines do what humans (who are thinking entities) do ?
Earlier this month, a computer – Google’s DeepMind – beat Lee Sedol, the world champion Go player, four times in five matches. Go is disarmingly trivial to play: you alternately place pieces on a board with a 19x19 grid of lines to try and surround your opponents pieces, so capturing them and their territory. Having much simpler rules than chess, Go’s triviality paradoxically leads to games of great complexity.
Bertrand Russell observed that deep thinking starts with something trivial and hardly worth stating, and ends with something paradoxically complex. In China, mastery of Go has been considered one of four intellectual qualities since the Tang dynasty.
Chess has 20 opening moves. Go has 361. A computer – IBM’s Deep Blue – first beat a chess grandmaster, Gary Kasparov, in 1996. It has taken a further 20 years for a machine to beat a Go grandmaster.