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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that AlphaGo is a 2017 documentary about a high-profile tournament in South Korea pitting artificial intelligence against a highly respected champion in the game of Go. The champion, Lee Sedol, is briefly filmed smoking cigarettes while taking a break from the intensity of the Go play against the Google DeepMind AI computer. While being someone who already enjoys playing Go will heighten the enjoyment of this documentary, you certainly don't need to understand the game's intricacies in order to get wrapped up in the overall story of "man vs. machine" and the positive ramifications suggested by the competition. These messages, and the watching-paint-dry feel of following a game of Go, may bore younger viewers, but for older viewers, Go fans, and those interested in the progress made in AI, AlphaGo should inspire deep reflection and interesting conversation at the dinner table.
What's the story?
While chess has long been a forte of computers, the game of Go has long been viewed by computer experts (including those in ALPHAGO) as a daunting, seemingly impossible challenge. Go is an ancient game with worldwide popularity, and there are more possible configurations to the game than there are atoms in the universe. Enter DeepMind, a company of UK programmers determined to develop AI to the point that not only can an AI computer play Go, but it can also improve with experience and defeat Go's highest-ranked human champions. This leads to the DeepMind Challenge Match, in which the Google DeepMind AI competes against Go legend Lee Sedol in South Korea in a series of five games that attract international attention. While there's a triumph in AI playing and winning against Sedol, what also emerges is Sedol finding ways to win in a way that perhaps only a human could win, suggesting a potentially symbiotic relationship between humanity and artificial intelligence.
Is it any good?
This documentary isn't for everyone, but for those fascinated by artificial intelligence and the future possibilities of the technology, there's plenty to discover and think about. AlphaGo manages to tell a story filled with the unexpected, with a sense of what's at stake for both Sedol and the DeepMind programmers, so that those who are unfamiliar with Go can still become absorbed in the action. Even with excitable color commentators detailing the moves and what they mean, actually watching Go from the outside isn't the most interesting visual experience, but AlphaGo makes it clear that what's happening is so much more than white-and-black stones placed on a square grid.
And even as DeepMind's AI victories are viewed as tremendous progress, and the viewer is happy for the DeepMind coders who made it happen, Sedol emerges as an underdog who you can't help but root for. HIs frustrations, his constant attempts to change strategy from game to game, his desire to win borne not out of statistics but out of the core of humanity itself that wants to find ways to win, reveals so much. What really emerges is something mutually beneficial in the relationship between man and machine that's suggested here. In other words: the idea that humanity will also evolve from these interactions with AI.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries. How does AlphaGo compare to other documentaries you've seen?
While watching Go from the outside might not be the most interesting thing to watch, how does the documentary create a sense of story, conflict, and excitement with the action swirling around the Go games?
How does this documentary convey popular conceptions of artificial intelligence and contrast this with the current realities and future potential that's a core of the movie's message?
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