AlphaGO – Tribeca Film Festival 2017

            GO pix
           April 26, 2017.  Director Greg Kohs’ documentary “AlphaGo” is one of the best documentaries I have seen so far at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.  It is a story of the ancient world meeting the modern and possibly having a very strong effect on the future.
           
             Go is an ancient Chinese board game which is described as contemplative, hypnotic and akin to having one’s hand on the third rail of the universe.  The game is played with two participants who have a collection of black and white stone-like pieces (one player takes white, the other black).  While I do not understand the intricacies of Go, this is not important here.  The filmmaker does convey the overall gist of the game, which, simply put, is about capturing territory on the Go board.  Including this bit of information is a very smart move on Koh’s part.  This small, but crucial, explanation gave me what I needed to ride the narrative of this movie.  I have always maintained that a good documentary should be able to take a subject in which I have little, or no, interest and make it compelling. In this regard, “AlphaGo” certainly delivers.
           Enter Google’s DeepMind Team which has been developing Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and wants to put it to the test by having their Go software square off against Go world champion Lee Sedol, in South Korea.  The idea is that A.I. could add to human intelligence, creating breakthroughs in the areas of art, medicine and science.  The DeepMind team feels that this tournament, if their software is successful, will be a step toward reaching their objective.
           The makers of “AlphaGo” had an interesting problem which they have solved quite well.  Film is a visual medium and Go is not the most visually interesting of games.  It does not have recognizable game pieces (as in chess), or football players in colorful uniforms attempting to gain yardage.  Kohs and his team get around this by intercutting the inevitable “human verses machine” face offs (five games) watched by millions online, with commentators analyzing the games as they happen, press conferences with Sedol and interviews with the DeepMind team.  “AlphaGo” also raises fascinating philosophical questions as to what it means for humanity if a computer program can outthink a human?  Is this just a matter of pride? Since A.I. is a human invention to begin with, could this contest really be a story of human verses human?  Could machines cause humans to improve?
            “AlphaGo” is an engrossing, iconic, hi-tech, “John Henry” story.  Henry, an African American folk hero, was a steel driver who famously competed against a steam powered steel driving machine, and won, but died in the process.  “AlphaGo” is a philosophical, suspenseful and well paced story that wows us with the comp-lexities of what it means to “think,” be we humans or machines.

 

 

 

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 26, 2017, in Tribeca Film Festival 2017, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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