For the past few days, Google DeepMind’s artificial intelligence (AI) program AlphaGo has been battling the world’s top Go player in China.

Today, the competition will reach the final round and it is predicted that the machine will triumph over its human opponent.

Why Go?

The board game Go originated in China thousands of years ago and has long been considered beyond the reach of a computer algorithm due to its complexity. Players take turns placing stones on a 19-by-19 grid, competing to take control of the most territory.

Last year, AlphaGo took on one of the world’s best players, South Korea’s Lee Sedol and won, setting a milestone in AI history.

Future of Go Summit

This week, the world’s top Go player, 19-year-old Ke Jie has been playing against AlphaGo in the birthplace of Go, the Chinese coastal town of Wuzhen at the “Future of Go Summit”. So far, the AI has won two games in the three-part match. Ke told reporters: “I’m a little bit sad, it’s a big of a regret because I think I played pretty well.”

DeepMind’s founder, Demis Hassabis, was complimentary about Ke saying he had played “perfectly” and “pushed AlphaGo right to the limit.”

“The first 100 moves were the best anyone’s ever played against the Master version. Our hearts were fluttering as well! I’d like to reiterate what an honor it is to play with a genius like Ke Jie. This is called the Future of Go Summit, and today I think we saw a game from the future,” he said.

Ke Jie playing against AlphaGo (via DeepMind)

That’s the point of AI – it learns from its competitors and was trained by studying older matches and playing thousands of games by itself. DeepMind has said the point of AlphaGo isn’t meant to diminish the traditions of playing the game, but to make human players “stronger and more competitive” as they try out different strategies after being inspired by the AI.

Life after Go

The AI isn’t just being trained to master the Chinese board game. The machine learning methods behind AlphaGo have been used to tackle other problems such as reducing energy and the technology is being used for medical projects, including at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London.

Hassabis wrote in a blog about the AI, saying:

“We’re excited to see what insights this next round of games and discussion will bring, and the challenges this will help us together – both on and off the Go board.”

In this instance, AlphaGo is similar to that other AI behemoth – IBM’s Watson. The supercomputer rose to fame a few years ago when it defeated the reigning champion on US quiz show Jeopardy. Since then, Watson has been used in different areas, such as healthcare and finance.