After beating the world’s elite Go players, Google’s AlphaGo AI is retiring

Google’s AlphaGo — the AI developed to tackle the world’s most demanding strategy game — is stepping down from competitive matches after defeating the world’s best talent. The latest to succumb is Go’s top-ranked player, Ke Jie, who lost 3-0 in a series hosted in China this week.

The AI, developed by London-based DeepMind, which was acquired by Google for around $500 million in 2014also overcome a team of five top players during a week of matches. AlphaGo first drew headlines last year when it beat former Go world champion Lee Sedol, and the China event took things to the next level with matches against 19-year-old Jie, and doubles with and against other top Go pros.

Challengers defeated, AlphaGo has cast its last competitive stone, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis explained.

This week’s series of thrilling games with the world’s best players, in the country where Go originated, has been the highest possible pinnacle for AlphaGo as a competitive program. For that reason, the Future of Go Summit is our final match event with AlphaGo.

The research team behind AlphaGo will now throw their energy into the next set of grand challenges, developing advanced general algorithms that could one day help scientists as they tackle some of our most complex problems, such as finding new cures for diseases, dramatically reducing energy consumption, or inventing revolutionary new materials.

Go is revered as the planet’s most demanding strategy game, and that’s why it made for an ideal field to both develop AI technology and plot machines against humans. Beyond Google, Tencent is among other tech firms to have unleashed AIs on the game. While it whips up curiosity and attention, the game simple serves as a stepping stone for future plans which is why DeepMind says it is moving on.

Indeed, the British company has already made a foray into more practical everyday solutions. Last year, it agreed to a data-sharing partnership with the UK’s National Health Service, however the partnership has been criticized for giving a for-profit company access to personally identifiable health data of around 1.6 million NHS patients. The original arrangement remains under investigation by the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO.

Those snafus aren’t a reflection on the technology itself, however, and Hassabis remains bullish on the impact his firm can make.

“If AI systems prove they are able to unearth significant new knowledge and strategies in these domains too, the breakthroughs could be truly remarkable. We can’t wait to see what comes next,” he said.

While AlphaGo is bowing out at the top, it isn’t done with Go altogether. DeepMind is planning to publish a final review paper on how the AI developed since its matches with Lee Sedol last year. It is also developing a teaching tool to help newcomers pick up the ropes of the highly complicated game, and to enable more experienced hands to learn the new and innovative moves that Go has introduced. Top players, even Ke Jie himself, studied up on AlphaGo’s moves and added some to their arsenal.