Do androids dream of electrostatics?

As a PhD student, with too much freedom and too little focus, I tried to divert my labmates by setting up a Go board in the lab to try to learn the ancient Chinese strategy game. But I only ever acquired a passing familiarity with the game – none of my opponents were any more informed than I was, and when I looked for machine opponents, I found none. At the time, I was surprised – a washing machine could have beaten me at chess. Go’s nuanced complexity, however, had foiled the scouring of possibility space that powers chess programs. Go’s almost infinite options apparently represented an impossible challenge for computing.  But impossibility isn’t what it used to be. In March this year, Google’s AlphaGo computer took on Lee Sedol,…

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