Lee So Dol behind blue glass
Yonhap News
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Go champion retires after realizing AI is undefeatable

A sad day for humans as the robots continue to take over. South Korean “Go” master Lee Se Dol has officially retired from professionally competing in the game due to the superiority of artificial intelligence.

“With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts,” Lee told Yonhap News. “Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.”

In 2016, Lee gained worldwide fame for beating Google-owned, DeepMind’s “AlphaGo” AI system in the extremely complicated “Go” game. He became the only human to beat the AI system in competition. However, he only beat it once while AlphaGo beat Lee four times.

Lee Se Dol
Yonhap News

While many praised Lee for the win against the AI system, Lee downplayed his victory as a bug in the system.

Lee Se Dol was the top-rated player in Go in the late 2000s. Before his matchup with AlphaGo, he declared that he would beat it in a “landslide,” according to The Verge. But he couldn’t keep his word as the AI system overwhelmed him.

“I failed,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I feel sorry that the match is over and it ended like this. I wanted it to end well.”

Go originated 2,500 years ago in China. It’s played by two players who control black and white stones in a 19 lines by 19 lines grid. It’s like chess but more complex. In Korea, it’s called “baduk” and Lee’s considered one of the best.

It was surprising to see Lee lose because most people thought AI wasn’t advanced enough to challenge Lee. And since it’s victory, it only got better as DeepMind created AlphaGo Zero which is a better version of AlphaGo. Instead of analyzing data play of over 100,000 games, AlphaGo Zero simply played itself over and over again to level up its skills. After three days of playing with itself, it beat AlphaGo 100 games to zero.

The CEO of DeepMind, Demis Hassabis told The Verge he had nothing but praise for Lee after the retirement news. He called Lee a “true warrior spirit” and congratulated him on his career.

Hassabis said, “On behalf of the whole AlphaGo team at DeepMind, I’d like to congratulate Lee Se Dol for his legendary decade at the top of the game, and wish him the very best for the future … I know Lee will be remembered as one of the greatest Go players of his generation.”

Interestingly enough, Lee will play an AI competitor named HanDol, created by South Korea’s NHN Entertainment Corp, as a toast to his retirement. HanDol has already beaten South Korea’s top five Go players and will give Lee a two-stone advantage when they play.

But the 36-year-old doesn’t think it will matter much.

“Even with a two-stone advantage, I feel like I will lose the first game to HanDol,” Lee said. “These days. I don’t follow Go news. I wanted to play comfortably against HanDol as I have already retired though I will do my best.”

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