Google’s AlphaGo Zero charts a startling new course in AI research

So much for that nice game of chess

If you had any doubts about the potential power of artificial intelligence, well, a story just out in Nature should be a wakeup call for us humans. According to the article, Google’s latest foray into AI, a computer system known as the AlphaGo Zero, is now “no longer constrained by the limits of human knowledge,” according to those associated with the program.

What does that mean? Well, you probably remember how an earlier version of the “Alpha Go” computer recently beat the best human Go champion 4 games to 1. Go is a 3,000-year-old Chinese board game considered to be the most complex game known as far as possible positions that can be played. It’s much more complex and random than chess. Scientists figured it would be another 10 years before an AI computer could beat a human player. They were wrong.

Now, AlphaGo Zero, which is actually an even more simplistic design than AlphaGo, just played 100 human Go players – and wiped the floor with all of them. How did it get so good? The original AlphaGo computer learned to play from studying how humans played the game, but AlphaGo Zero used a new scheme called “reinforcement learning:” researchers told the computer what the rules of the game were and made winning a “reward” by earning a point.

The computer then played against itself – completely skipping the human competition/learning step. The result: complete mastery of the game in just two days. But in that time, AlphaGo Zero played millions of matches against itself, learning what moves worked, and according to the Google team, teaching itself moves and strategy no human has used before, thus the 100-to-zip thrashing of the human players it encountered afterwards.

Worried yet? Fascinated? Both? It’s a landmark achievement for AI to be sure, and could point a way forward for, of course, better, faster, and very much smarter AI systems that we’ll all be working with in the near future. We’ve got a few links related to this very interesting and somewhat scary development in artificial intelligence programming, so check them out to get the whole story.

Cortana, it’s time to Invoke some rockin’ tunes

Speaking of AI, smart-home hubs are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, but the latest entry has our attention: it’s the Invoke by audio icon Harman-Kardon, and Alexa isn’t living inside of it, this time Microsoft’s Cortana assistant is at your beck and call. The tapered cylinder comes in two finishes and packs some punchy audio performance, putting it in the running against our current audio quality winner, the new Sonos One that features Alexa integration.

While the choice of Cortana as the Invoke’s AI agent somewhat limits your music choices and some other options, that will probably get worked out down the line as Microsoft pushes more products into the smarthome space. Cortana does give the invoke integration across Windows PCs and some mobile devices, and it will also perform hands-free Skype calls, so bonus points there. We’ve got a full review of this latest home hub right here.

Do you see what I see?

Are you an internet star, showing the world your life via livestream? Well then, we have something new for you: The Samsung 360 Round, an alien-looking device studded with no less than 17 4K video cameras for live-streaming your existence to the masses in luscious 4K 360-degree virtual reality. The 360 Round also features six spatial audio microphones with inputs for two more, 40gb of expandable internal memory, and much more.

The 360 Round is about eight inches across and its even water and dust resistant for those special times when you venture outside your purpose-built VR sphere in the basement. Price? Not set yet, but a couple leaks indicate it should be about $10,000 when it gets released later this month. Seeing how VR and VR content is expected to be a $200-billion industry in just a few years, we’d call that a bargain.

We’ve got more news on our Facebook page and YouTube channel, and be sure to tune in to this week’s DT podcasts: Close to the Metal (computers and such) on Tuesday, Trends with Benefits (general tech shenanigans)  on Thursdays, and Between the Streams (movie and TV topics) every Friday.

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