Former Go World Champion Announce Retirement After Realizing He Can’t Beat AI

The increasing supremacy of Artifical Intelligence in competitive strategy games has led one of the world’s top human champions of Go to retire from the game.

The South Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol has announced his retirement from professional play, because he is convinced that machines “cannot be defeated”, according to media reports on Yonhap news agency.



This battel against DeepMind’s AI started in March 2016, where he played five matches against AlphaGo.

The 18-time world Go champion lost all but one encounter in the series i.e he won one out of five matches against AlphaGo proving that AI is advanced enough to beat humanity at one of its most complex abstract strategy games. Lee also remains the only person to have won a game against AlphaGo.




After the match finishes Sedol was shocked and he did not hide his sense of failure after his losses.

“I don’t know how to start or what to say today, but I think I would have to express my apologies first,” he said after the third match. “I do apologize for not being able to satisfy a lot of people’s expectations.”




“I kind of felt powerless, I have come to question the classical beliefs a little bit, so I have more study to do.”

The games had a global impact, alerting the world to a new breed of machine learning programs that promised to be smarter and more creative than AI of old.

“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 South Korea’s Yonhap news agency this week.

“Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.”

Lee told the news agency that his single victory in 2016 was likely down to a bug in Google’s code after he used a move that could not be countered straightforwardly and the program responded in an unusual way that gave him an opening and eventually forced AlphaGo to surrender.

He added that his decision to begin retired was also inspired by his dispute with the KBA over how the organization uses membership fees. According to Yonhap, Sedol is suing the organization for his fees.

The news agency Yonhap reported that on November 19, Sedol submitted his resignation notice to the Korea Baduk Association (KBA) that regulates professional Go competitors in South Korea, putting an end to the 36-year-old’s 24-year Go career.



DeepMind’s AI programs improve their strategies by analyzing thousands of professional matches, which allows it to anticipate the opponent’s moves and counter with the most effective strategies and counterplays.

During the five-match series, AlphaGo surprised the world with its so-called “move 37,” which human experts initially thought was a mistake, but which proved decisive in game two. Lee made his own impact with his “hand of God” play (move 78), which flummoxed the AI program and allowed Lee to win a single game.

After the tournament, DeepMind’s team further improved its program and works on making the system more smarter. In 2017, it created AlphaGo Zero, a version of the program which surpassed even AlphaGo.

The latest integration, AlphaGo Zero, was able to beat the original AlphaGo 100 matches in a row.

DeepMind AI programs have mastered some of the most popular strategy games of our time, from classic board games like Chess and Go to competitive video games. Last month DeepMind’s “Starcraft 2” AI program, AlphaStar, reached the rank of grandmaster, making it better than 99.8% of all human players.

DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis said Lee had demonstrated “true warrior spirit” in his games with AlphaGo.

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.”

Sedol plans to celebrate his retirement next month with one final game against an AI Go competitor HanDol, which has already beaten by the country’s top five players. HanDol is built by South Korea tech firm NHN Entertainment. Sedol will start the game with a slight handicap.

“Even with a two-stone advantage, I feel like I will lose the first game to HanDol,” he told Yonhap, already dejected. “I wanted to play comfortably against HanDol as I have already retired, though I will do my best.”

Lee Sedol is the world champion of the Go game and has bagged #2 position in international titles. He is considered one of the greatest Go players of the modern era, Lee started playing at the age of five and turned pro just seven years later.

The 36-year-old Lee has won 18 international competitions and 32 domestic tournaments, resigning from the Korea Baduk Association (KBA) this month will end his 24-year career. Baduk is the Korean name for Go.

While Lee is no longer playing professionally, he will help to develop just the type of AI that pushed him out of the competition.

Even though Go was originated in China 3,000 years ago, it has been played in Japan and South Korea also.

In Go two players alternate placing white and black stones on a grid. The goal is to claim the most territory. To do so, players surround their opponent’s pieces so that they are removed from the board.

The rules are simple two players take turns placing black or white stones on a square board with a 19×19 grid. Whoever captures the most territory wins. But the strategies needed to secure victory are complex, and there are said to be more possible move configurations than atoms in the universe.

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