Blog Archives

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements