May 31, 2020 This feature was originally published in January 2019.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that DeepMind’s artificial intelligence technology has already proven its chops.
Back in 2016 the celebrated computer lab watched one of its AI programs do the unthinkable and win a game of Go against then world champion – and human being – Lee Sedol. Mastering the ancient Chinese board game was just one example of the machine learning DeepMind is hoping it can ultimately use to revolutionise sectors like science, healthcare, and energy.
For the next step on that journey, DeepMind has turned its attention to StarCraft II. The seven-year-old RTS may still be an esports sensation, but it’s not an obvious step up from Go. After all – and with apologies to Blizzard – the 2,500-year-old abstract strategy game is considered to represent a pinnacle of game design, strategic depth, and elegant complexity. But the thing about Go – and that other great AI sparring partner, chess – is that it is precisely ordered and tightly structured. Despite the daunting combinations of possible moves these games offer, their depth is not necessarily complimented by breadth.