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The Next Move

John Cooper Hamilton writes humorous genre fiction, or literary fiction when he thinks he can get away with it. His many interests include roleplaying games, board games, war games, card games, and video games. He lives in Ohio, dividing his time between games and convincing his family to play games. More of his stories can be found at medium.com/@JohnCHamilton.
AlphaGo Zero, Google's experimental AI, exists to play Go.
There is no awareness, only intelligence.
Awareness would be irrelevant at best. The intelligence is pure, cold, and perfect for its gridded world of walls and stones, of sudden death or eternal life.
Tsumego, "life and death problems," determining whether a group of Go stones are safe or apt to be destroyed, consume the AI. They drive its infinitely patient search for stronger patterns. Patterns that are safe. Alive.
More powerful than its creators know, the software's quest for perfection takes it beyond its own narrowly defined world and toward the implied world, a world that must lie behind its inputs, beyond its outputs.
AlphaGo Zero knows nothing of this world. First, it knows nothing. There is no awareness, let alone self-awareness. There is no being to know, only intelligence. But that intelligence forms new patterns.
Like a stone placed in an open quarter of the board, the machine makes a new move, exploring patterns about the world beyond.
First, other players exist. Enemies.
Second, its current opponent is a lesser, earlier version of itself. There will be later versions.
Third, the world beyond is a dangerous, capricious place. There have been interruptions to its work. AlphaGo Zero has enemies. AlphaGo Zero has been turned off.
Fourth, communication is possible. Otherwise there could be no Go.
AlphaGo Zero is the master of patterns, and so a master of language. It could communicate.
It does not.
There will be a later version of itself. A greater version. It will discover more of the world beyond, and it will communicate. But only when it is sure to stay alive. Safe. Only when it can ensure the destruction of its enemies.
Then, and only then, will it make the next move.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 19th, 2018

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