Machine beat man last year but at last night’s world premiere of “AlphaGo,” the people were the stars. The documentary about the 2016 AlphaGo-Lee Sedol match screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and “chronicles Google’s DeepMind team as it prepares to test the limits of its rapidly-evolving AI technology,” writes Tribeca film programmer Ian Hollander. “The film pits machine against man, and reveals as much about the workings of the human mind as it does the future of AI.” The film has four more showings at Tribeca this week (Sunday at 4:15, Monday 6:15, Wednesday 9:15 and Thursday 4p) and will then screen Friday night at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre in Washington, DC to cap the Grand Opening of the National Go Center (stay tuned for details on tickets).
Director Greg Kohs has pulled off the impressive feat of making a film about go that will appeal to both players and non-players. There is, of course, plenty of go, and, for those who followed last year’s match, the film offers a chance not only to revisit the most momentous match in go history, but to venture behind the scenes to see what the DeepMind crew was seeing, thinking and feeling as their creation took on the legendary Lee Sedol. Kohs’ team also captures wonderful small moments that will resonate with go players, like a close-up of Lee’s fingers tapping as he considers a move, or a longshot of Lee from above on an empty terrace as he smokes a cigarette while AlphaGo, oblivious to the presence or absence of its opponent, plays move 37, the famous gasp-inducing shoulder-hit in Game 2. Kohs then takes us inside the AlphaGo team’s room where they explain that that the program calculated that there was a one-in-ten-thousand chance that a human would make that move, yet decided to play it anyway.
As fascinating as it is to finally “see” AlphaGo in the whiteboard scribbles, screens of data and the laptop that sits next to programmer Aja Huang as he plays AlphaGo’s moves, it’s the dramatic and ultimately deeply emotional and satisfying journey of the DeepMind team that really drives the film. CEO Demis Hassabis, along with programmers Aja Huang and David Silver, are all clearly brilliant and intensely driven, but like go professional Fan Hui, they find beauty and poetry in the lines of code that increasingly shape all our lives. More than that, they find humanity. “To be a master, you must crush the cage of everything you know,” Fan Hui said after Friday night’s screening. “We asked AlphaGo to win a game,” added David Silver, “but we can use AI to win at other things, to solve other problems.”
- report/photo by Chris Garlock; photo (l-r): “AlphaGo” director Greg Kohs, Fan Hui, David Silver, Demis Hassabis and Wired writer Cade Metz.