Getty Images
Getty Images

Go Grandmaster Loses Tournament Against Google’s AlphaGo

Getty Images
Getty Images

Google’s AlphaGo is on a roll. In January, the artificially intelligent Go-playing robot became the first computer to beat a professional player at the Chinese board game Go. Now, WIRED reports that AlphaGo has made its most decisive victory, beating Go Grandmaster Lee Sedol four to one in a five-game Go tournament.

While computers have vanquished professional chess players, bested humans at Jeopardy, and even solved Connect Four, this is the first time a computer has competed professionally in and won a Go tournament against a player at Sedol’s level. Go, which is played on a 19-by-19 grid, has more possible opening moves than perhaps any other board game. For instance, while Connect Four has seven possible opening moves, and chess has 20 possible openings, Go has 361. The sheer number of possible moves in a Go game has historically made developing a Go-playing computer hugely challenging.

AlphaGo, however, is a triumph in AI technology. The computer system used a neural network to not only learn Go moves from professional players, but to develop its own strategies and skills by playing against itself, CNET reports.

AlphaGo, the "player" at left, was aided by a human assistant who moved the pieces on the Go board. At right, Grandmaster Lee Sedol. Image credit: Getty

The tournament put the differences between humans and computers into sharp relief. On the one hand, AlphaGo played an idiosyncratic game, according to WIRED, making moves throughout the tournament that no human would choose. (As you can see in the photo above, AlphaGo got a physical assist from a human helper who moved the pieces on the Go board.) It also made mistakes that seemed amateurish to human observers. Sedol, on the other hand, made at least one uniquely human choice: After beating AlphaGo while playing with white pieces in the fourth Go match—his only victory—he chose black pieces for the fifth and final game, a decision he knew would put him at a disadvantage.

Throughout his first four games, Sedol had noticed AlphaGo struggling more when it played with black pieces, and so, rather than play it safe in the fifth game, he decided to see if he could beat the computer at its strongest. “I really do hope I can win with black,” he told WIRED before the final game, “because winning with black is much more valuable.”

Though Sedol ultimately lost, the game against AlphaGo was nevertheless a win for human innovation.

"The game showed that AlphaGo is far from infallible," explains WIRED. "There are holes in its education. But, able to draw on months of play with itself—on a corpus of moves that no human has even seen—it also has the ability to climb out of such a deep hole, even against one of the world’s best players."

[h/t WIRED]

Cell Free Technology
This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]


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