Chess Isn’t What It Used to Be

Chess Isn’t What It Used to Be

An extract from Yuval Noah Hariri’s fascinating book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”.

On 7 December 2017, a critical milestone was reached, not when a computer defeated a human at chess – that’s old news – but when Google’s AlphaZero programme defeated the Stockfish 8 programme.  Stockfish 8 was the world’s computer chess champion for 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience.  It was able to calculate 70 million chess positions per second.  In contrast AlphaZero performed only 80 000 such calculations per second, and its human creators never taught it any chess strategies – not even opening strategies.  Rather, AlphaZero used the latest machine-learning principles to self-learn chess by playing against  itself.  Nevertheless, out of a hundred games the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish, AlphaZero won twenty-eight and tied seventy-two.  It didn’t lose even once. Since AlphaZero learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to human eyes. They may well be considered creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long it took AlphaZero to learn chess from scratch, prepare for the match against Stockfish and develop its genius instincts?  Four hours.  That’s no typo.  For centuries chess was considered one of the crowning glories of human intelligence.  AlphaZero went from utter ignorance to creative mastery in four hours, without the help of any human guide.

  • 8 Apr, 2019