AI and its effect on the aesthetic of gameplay

It is a well-known fact that nowadays no human chess player can beat a computer AI. Relatively recently, Lee Sedol, one of the best Go players, lost 4-1 to Google’s AI AlphaGo. The reason I bring up this old news is FiveThirtyEight’s recent article “Are Computers Draining The Beauty Out Of Chess?” Like the aesthetics of mathematics, I find it difficult to explain what aesthetic sense a game of chess or Go might have, and since I’m not a great chess or Go player, it’s likely that I have a limited sense of it anyway. Much of it, in my limited experience, is a mixture of naturalness and surprise. A beautiful move is both surprising, and yet in hindsight, appears to be the most natural thing in the world.

I think back to reading Yasunari Kawabata’s The Master of Go. In Japan back then, there were strong traditions and rituals involved in playing the game, to the point where victory seemed secondary to the play of the game itself. Just as the loss of the game in that book may be symbolic of the waning traditional values in Japan at the time, I feel that Lee Sedol’s loss against AlphaGo may portent to a loss of aesthetic value in the game.  Unlike most art, the primary focus of games is to win. And to win now means to behave like a computer. Where playing like a human resulted in beautiful moves, playing like a computer seems to result in safe, calculated movement.

Honestly, I’m out of my element here, talking about many subjects that I’m not an expert in.


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