On May 31, 2023

Go and be heard

 

As a child, my parents were against excessive television watching, so, consequently, I had to find something else to do when the outdoor option was unavailable. Because of this, I became enamored with board and card games.

I started with Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, checkers, and a variety of card games. Once I matured, I opted for chess, Monopoly, and Scrabble. If you visited my house or stayed overnight, you were going to be my opponent, whether you liked it or not. My mother and grandmother were also good about appeasing my need to play games, since I always seemed to be in the mood.

I think this is where my competitive edge evolved. I loved to win and hated to lose. And the hating to lose part forced me to develop a sense of strategy, which in turn made me successful at playing. 

Unfortunately, at some point in my teenage years, the losing started to get to me. In fact, it caused me so much angst that I began to limit my playing. Eventually, I got to the point where even the idea of playing a board or card game made me uncomfortable.

Years later, my wife (who also grew up loving to play games), badgered me to play backgammon or rummy 500 with her, but I rarely engaged. I’d make up excuses or say I wasn’t in the mood, but eventually I told her that I simply hated games and not to ask me anymore.

I never gave this aversion to games much thought until my wife began to inquire. That’s when I started to question why it felt so uncomfortable. Eventually I landed on the aforementioned competitive theory that the possibility of losing wasn’t worth the effort of playing.

Since that revelation, I’ve tried to reintroduce a few games like backgammon and cribbage back into my life, but the passion of my youth has never been fully reignited. 

And then one day several weeks ago, the algorithm on YouTube offered me up a film called “AlphaGo,” and while it didn’t initially appear interesting, after further inquiry, I decided to give it a try. 

I realized that my recent infatuation with artificial intelligence and the emergence of ChatGPT likely forced the film into my YouTube feed. YouTube is crafty that way; it’s always trying to find an angle to keep your attention on its platform. If it senses that you’ve found a new interest, it will dig deep into its archives to find  any video that might relate.

In short, “AlphaGo” is a documentary about Google’s DeepMind supercomputer and the greatest living Go player on earth trying to see who can outsmart who.

 Go is a Chinese abstract strategy game that’s been around for over 2,500 years and widely considered the oldest continuously played board game in history. You may have seen the game at some point in your life, but you likely haven’t played it, which is ironic since it’s ridiculously popular in many countries and apparently has somewhere in the vicinity of 65 million players worldwide (most of whom are in East Asia). 

Go is played on a standard board that has a 19×19 grid of lines containing 361 points where two players place black or white “stones” in alternating moves. The idea is to surround your opponent’s pieces to remove them from the board. The player who has the most pieces on the board at the end of the game is declared the winner. 

It sounds simple, but the strategy and tactics require immense concentration and full mental immersion. By the time I was finished watching this film and listening to people talk about how Go emulates life and personal psychology, I was convinced I had to play. 

I went to Amazon.com and found a mid-priced Go board and put it in my basket. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I think it’s inevitable. My wife has agreed to learn to play with me so stay tuned – my youthful love of board games may be on the verge of a rekindling. 

Remember, when world chess champion Garry Kasparov played IBM’s Deep Blue computer back in the late 1990s.  Kasparov initially won, but the next year Deep Blue prevailed, proving to the world that computers were on the fast track to supremacy.

That was 25 years ago – now we have AlphaGo. And while the premise is the same, the stakes are even higher. 

If you have any interest in artificial intelligence and where we may be headed, definitely check this documentary out. It’s scary and disturbing in a very entertaining way. And who knows, maybe you’ll be intrigued enough to buy your own Go board. 

A digitizing “B” for “AlphaGo,” currently available for free on YouTube.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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