Everyone around the world, even those who are not familiar with the ancient game of Go, or baduk as it’s called in Korea, have been watching the matches between AlphaGo and top-ranking go player Lee Se-dol. The baduk series of the century started on March 9 and is due to end tomorrow, Tuesday 15. The five-round battle is between Korea’s Lee Se-dol, who had dominated the game for more than a decade, and artificial intelligence program AlphaGo boasting wins against all existing baduk computer programs. The historic series between man and machine has focused spotlight on artificial intelligence and the beginning of AI era. Today we have reporter Lee In-cheol of Korea Economic TV to tell us more about the AI industry and Korea’s efforts to catch up with AI frontrunners and carve out a place in the market.
The AlphaGo program was developed by Google’s DeepMind unit. After defeating European Go champion Fan Hui with a 5-0 score last October, AlphaGo developers thought the program was capable of challenging one of the world’s top Go players, Korea’s Lee Se-dol. To prepare for the battle, AlphaGo studied 30 million moves from 160,000 match records. Since baduk is immensely complex, with countless positioning probabilities, it was considered the last frontier where humans can outwit machines. But a computer program ended up beating a human champion. This certainly is an unprecedented event that demonstrates the infinite potential of artificial intelligence.
Google’s AI program, AlphaGo, claimed victory in the first three games and was officially announced as the winner on Saturday. After suffering three consecutive losses, Lee Se-dol bounced with a win on Sunday, bringing the results to 4-1 in favor of AlphaGo with one remaining game. AlphaGo’s amazing performance at baduk, considered the most complex game created by man, demonstrated how quickly artificial intelligence is evolving and prompted the Korean government to set up plans for the era of AI.
After the recent baduk series of man versus machine, the Korean government started setting up a master plan for the era of AI. The plan involves building a so-called “platform for intelligence information society” to strategically nurture the field of artificial intelligence. The government will support several research and development projects and a privately funded research center will be established. Although Korea is a late entrant to the AI industry, given the country’s huge advances in information and communications technologies, the Korean government seems to think it has a chance of success in this field.
The Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning announced last Wednesday its plan to promote artificial intelligence technology as a strategic industry. Specific projects will be disclosed soon, but the plan itself illustrates how eager Korea is to catch up with other AI frontrunners.
Intelligence information technology refers to combining such high information processing capabilities as cognitive functions, learning and inference with information and communication technology. Global technology giants such as Google and Apple have already earned worldwide attention with their self-driving cars and driverless electric vehicles. Facebook has developed DeepFace, a facial recognition program with a 97% accuracy rate. AI investments are on the rise both in individual countries and on the worldwide scale. The U.S. established the Brain Initiative in 2013 and is planning to invest 3 billion dollars over the next 10 years. The European Union also founded the “Human Brain Project” which will receive 1 billion euros over the next decade.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the coining of the word “artificial intelligence” by American computer scientist John McCarthy back in 1956. Over the past six decades AI has made it into many aspects of our lives. Voice recognition technology or robotic vacuum cleaners, regarded as the basics of AI, are already deeply ingrained in our lives. Now, AI technology has been applied to financial and medical fields. IBM’s artificial intelligence program Watson has completed medical residency and AI financial analyst Robo Advisor is making a number of profitable investments. Compared to the head start enjoyed by advanced countries, Korea has just stepped up to the starting line.
Korea is considered about two or three years behind advanced countries in AI technology. In 2013, the country kicked off the Exobrain project in the field of knowledge learning and education, which accumulates knowledge in multiple domains. The following year Korea also started a project called DeepView, which analyzes real-time images. Samsung and LG also set up AI teams and online portal sites have adopted AI systems. In fact, KakaoTalk already has an AI-based news provider service. The problem is that it’s only been a year or two since any projects involving AI got underway in Korea, so Korea lags far behind AI-advanced countries.
AI technology in Korea has a long way to go. If the United States is given a score of 100 in terms of the level of intelligent software, Europe rates 85 points, Japan 82.9, and Korea 75.1. But there’s still no absolute leader in the global AI industry. There’s still enough room for AI to change human lifestyle and industrial landscape. That means Korea still has the time and means to rise up in the industry and lead AI technology development.
The global AI market is expected to grow as large as 2 trillion dollars by 2025. Right now the Korean economy is struggling both on the export and domestic fronts. But it’s clear that AI is a promising industry for the future and certainly provides a breakthrough for the Korean economy. Google and IBM are currently leading the AI market, but there are still opportunities for Korea. The fact that Korea is the world’s best in IT hardware works greatly in our favor. The government has also announced that it will pull all the resources together to lead the global AI market in a short period of time. It’s expected that this effort to promote the local AI industry will pay off.
The games between Lee Sedol and AlphaGo have caused a storm of reactions. But from the economic perspective it is imperative for Korea to have a clear picture of its place in the field of AI and objectively assess its strengths and shortcomings. The baduk series between man and machine may well have been a rude awakening for Korea to spur along its AI projects.