At the Forefronts of AI (Thoughts on AlphaGo)

Livestream link (English) here if you’re interested in watching the rest of the matches. More information about AlphaGo here. They also have a paper published in Nature for those that are academically driven.


I foolishly stayed past 3am last night, without studying a word for my midterm this morning,  unable to stop watching Lee Sedol, a 9-dan professional Go player, test his wits against the mighty technological advancement that is AlphaGo – a Google-owned computer program (powered by hundreds of CPUs) that is able to match even professional level Go players in the difficult, but logical board game.

It was game two and (spoiler alert) he had lost the previous game the night before (or day before, in Korea time). The victory by AlphaGo came as a surprise to all the professional commentators – none of them had predicted that the program would be such a powerful opponent judging from its performance last October against Fan Hui. While it would take decades for a professional player to reach this level, AlphaGo was able to play against itself millions of times within the past months and establish a truly powerful playstyle.

Prior to watching the first livestream, I only had a preliminary understanding of Go – I’ve only played it once or twice and only casually in the free time during math class in high school. So it’s obvious that I’m no Go professional, but even though I barely understood half of the moves that AG and Lee Sedol were making (and the moves I did understand were due to the well-thought out explanations and predictions from Michael Redmond during the stream), I could appreciate the heavy implications this battle brings into both the artificial intelligence scientific and Go communities. And those implications, for humanity and for AI, was what had me watching all night long.


I was cheering for Lee Sedol the whole way through because I didn’t want to believe that humanity could be bested by machine in such a complicated game that often pushes human intelligence to the limits (as seen in high pressure professional matches). It comes as no surprise that my heart sank when the commentators began estimating or counting the score in the mid-game and he was once again behind and losing to AlphaGo. There was so much pressure on Lee to perform that I couldn’t help but feel for him. On one hand, AlphaGo winning is a step forward in AI, a step forward in technology, and in that sense, a step forward in humanity. Even so, it felt like the opposite – oppressive in the sense that even the greatest human achievements are nothing in the face of a machine. Almost like the AI was undermining all the years that these players spend perfecting their  game -making even the professionals at the top of the ladder seem flawed – and that’s uncomfortable to think about.

Even more unsettling to me was the way that the AI approaches the game. If the system believes she (note: AI are usually considered female) has already won, she no longer seeks to play the optimal moves and instead plays weaker moves to see how the opponent responds. Even in such a high pressure and difficult match, she’s playing with her opponent. From the view of the engineers behind AG, it’s amazing and it shows how far the AI has come. From the view of Go players, it just feels bad.

The whole situation is filling me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m in awe of the power that this system possesses. On the other hand, I can’t let go of that feeling that in the end, humans will be replaceable. It makes me think: what can’t artificial intelligence accomplish?

Furthermore, as a gamer, an AI that can beat the best of the best at a game is frightening. We spend so much time fine-tuning our skills, playing against other players, and working towards being better game after game. It’s depressing to think that the fruits of our efforts after years of gameplay is worth less than months of training a computer. It’s even scarier to think of players that can use these computers to train instead of playing of other people. If something like AlphaGo could become commercialized (though doubtful that Google would release it), what would be the point of Go players playing each other anymore for practice? The whole social aspect of the game would go down the drain…Just thinking about that consequence makes me shiver.

It’s these uncomfortable, but exciting thoughts that  draw me to continue watching the livestreams. It’s incredible how far artificial intelligence has come and even if the implications make us uncomfortable, I believe it’s worth the pursuit. And although it’s highly doubtful that Lee Sedol will be able to win the series at this point (the winner after 5 matches gets a million dollars), I’m really hoping that he’ll be able to take one game off AG. I think it’d give us a glimmer of hope that there is something incredible about the human brain that even a machine cannot read. Fingers crossed. Go Lee Sedol! 🙂

Even if he isn’t able to win, I suppose we’ll just have to accept it as also a good thing for humanity…right?


136 – End of classes, piece of happiness

I think I have a tendency to write more when I’m sleep deprived. So here I am again after only getting 3 hours of sleep last night.

Today was the last day of classes so thank goodness for that. Had to do two papers (3500 words and 2000 words respectively) for today…hence the semi-allnighter.

Had a 60s presentation for the psych class as well. No big deal. Though her marking style really has me cringing and frustrated. She’s a great prof but very, very specific to what she wants to hear.

Got my first midterm on Saturday so I’ll be meeting up with Alina tomorrow to study some chemistry. I feel a bit more productive with someone else in the room provided they’re not the ones being the distraction.

Been playing way too much league for my own good. But that’s usually what happens around exam time – after all, I got to diamond a year and a half ago during finals…what physics exam, right?

The instructor/TA I emailed the 3500 word assignment to replied back saying he had received it…and also extended an invitation to do summer research in the lab that he’s in (he probably sent it to other students too, but it was special to me nonetheless) .  We had a conversation last week about how I thought research wasn’t for me and how I’d much rather go into industry/med school. He told be he disagreed and thought that I was actually quite good (the course he’s teaching is a lab/research-based course). It made me feel really happy. Because the course had been frustrating – especially for the other members of my group. To be perfectly honest though, I liked it…though I wouldn’t say that to the face of my frustrated team.

In any case, it just made me smile really hard (and blush) that he referred back to that conversation and made the effort to reply considering the number of 3000+ word assignments he now has to grade…

I definitely have one of those “really love this prof but would not approach” crushes on him. Totally platonic though. Don’t need more grad student drama after that infuriating elevator guy. Nope.

Besides, I have a boyfriend.  So double nope.

But damn, he has me considering trying research again. :/

127 – I think I broke science.

I’m honestly not doing anything all that complicated in the lab. Just a simple liquid-liquid extraction.

For some reason when I dry my sample (MTBE + organic contents) with nitrogen gas, a white precipitate-looking thing (looks almost like a pellet) starts to form at the bottom of the micro centrifuge tube. I thought it was precipitate and was pretty frustrated with it since there shouldn’t be any proteins left in the MTBE layer and there really should not be any precipitate.

So when this happened on Saturday, I just gave up and said I’d try again on Monday, leaving the tubes open in the fumehood in frustration. On Monday, the white-precipitate looking thing was gone. SOLIDS DON’T JUST EVAPORATE, RIGHT?

My supervisor thinks it might be foam, but foam shouldn’t normally form at the bottom of the tube. So I don’t know what the white stuff is. Does it form because of air pressure/cold temps or is it something in the solution? I don’t know. Science is hard. ):


Feeling weary and tired.

No doubt due to numerous nightmares I had last night.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t dream so vividly.

To make matters worse, I had decaf coffee this morning (I wanted to try it). It tastes better. But doesn’t give me the zing of energy I get from regular coffee. I didn’t even get much of a placebo effect (probably because I knew it was decaf and that only works when you think it’s regular coffee). I think I’ll stick with regular coffee. The caffeine is what has me hooked on the stuff – not the taste.

Anxious about my presentation on Thursday. I don’t know if what I have is even presentable material. It feels too simple. I feel like I’ll just get a “Oh, good” reaction rather than an “Ah, cool!”. I could live with that. I guess.

Was vortexing my samples when I noticed a drawer labelled “Fried chicken and watermelon”. It’s nice to know that whoever was making labels for these drawers has a good sense of humour. Maybe FCW stands for something. Not sure.

Wasn't even kidding.

Wasn’t even kidding.

I did check inside the drawers though. No fried chicken nor watermelon. Only some petri dishes and fluoropel. Yeah, not so exciting.

Can’t wait to get home and snuggle in my bed. Rain always makes me want to just curl up and read a book. Awful weather lately (thunderstorm last night resulted in subway delays this morning). Actually, screw “lately”, awful weather all the time in Toronto.

Welp. Just gotta make do.

117 – I’m not a great scientist. I think.

I don’t think I’m a good scientist.
Too clumsy.  Find myself spilling things, dropping things, and breaking things.  :s I try to be careful. Really, I do.
Don’t get me started on my awful pipetting skills (how do you do the exact same thing twice and end up with different volumes???).

But I guess there’s more to being a scientist than good technical skills. Gotta think like one too (i.e. This isn’t working,  how do I make it work? What can I change? What did work? Etc.)
Not too good at that either I don’t think.
For the most part, I’m enjoying my time in the lab. I don’t particularly get excited by the work I’m doing – like the way I do when I work on art or writing projects – but it’s okay.  Got me thinking I don’t want to be doing this forever though. A summer or two?  Cool. A few years? Maybe. The rest of my life? Nuh-uh. My brain isn’t wired for this,  I guess.

Been wanting to play a lot of league lately and not study for my MCAT (I’m in big trouble, I know). It’s just that working in this lab is fairly mentally  dehabilitating and the last thing I want to do when I get home at like 7 is study.
But I’ve got to.
I know.
If I don’t want to work in a lab for the rest of my life,  I need to do well on this test.
No more but’s.

I’m always afraid of people inferring I want to be a doctor because my parents want me to. Because I don’t believe parents should force their kid onto any career path. Children need to live their own lives.

I’m lucky enough that my parents support (for the most part) what I want. On the contrary,  my mom would’ve probably preferred me not to pursue med school (or attempt to pursue) – too much pressure and work that she doesn’t think I can handle/not good for me.
Maybe she’s right.  Maybe I should’ve taken the easy path (Business) where you don’t need an extra 4 years before building your career.
But I don’t think that would fulfill me.

And I’m aware of my privilege in the opportunity to choose (or attempt to choose) a career that fulfills me.
It’s amazing how my family could be so poor and yet end up with me as spoiled as I am. I’m a living contradiction (a part of me I may dig deeper into in a future post. It’s something that I’ve come to realize, accept, and appreciate over the past couple of months).

For now, I’m going to continue to question my capabilities and identity, for how can you figure yourself out if you’re not asking any questions? 🙂

108 – Tests ruin learning & My biggest fear.

My happy mood from Monday was shortlived. I thoroughly enjoyed studying for my PSY290 midterm on Tuesday, learning a lot about the brain that I thought would be perfect supplementary material to share with kids during my Brain Day presentations (I’m doing one tomorrow….alone because the association doesn’t read their emails or offer any support when your partner cannot make it).

The midterm itself was crushing. Every question made me feel worse and worse. As an inherently indecisive person taking a multiple choice exam with options from a) to e) with e) often being “both a and b”, every decision I made on that exam stressed me out. This is probably the reason I would not consider a Biology major – purely MC exams cause me unwarranted amounts of anxiety. The questions picked at details and were sometimes very vaguely phrased. I didn’t feel like I was being tested on the main concepts I learned in class. I felt like I was being tested on knowing every single little detail found in the lecture slides and in the textbook. The questions were so focused that it was difficult to see the point of the test. To make matters worst, I didn’t find out about the past test someone posted up on Facebook until 5 minutes before the test. I know he probably reused some of those questions. Ugh. That test was not an accurate measure of my learning. Not one bit.

I’m starting to feel a bit better after that crushed my mood. Hopefully I can get over it by tomorrow when I have to talk about the brain for a few hours in front of children. I don’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t have enthusiasm about science – this neurobiology course (PSY290) is just really pushing me down.

Tests suck. They really do. They take the joy out of learning – especially if they’re not written well. I do enjoy learning neurobiology. In fact, biology itself was very interesting to me. The way I’m tested in these courses though? Nope. Just nope.

Starting watching House (from the first season!) last night, having heard about what it’s about in my abnormal psych class, and already I’m hooked. I wish I had started watching earlier. A couple of my friends in high school used to watch it avidly. I feel like I would’ve really had something to talk about with them. As someone who wants to get into med school and who loves Sherlock Holmes (one of the inspirations behind the Dr House character), I find the show intellectually stimulating, funny, and interesting. Looks like I found a new source of procrastination. Opps.

But watching House really put me in a better place. I’m thankful for that.

Was chatting with a friend about how my biggest fear is not being able to return home. It really is. If I somehow get accepted into a grad/med school here or somewhere else far away from home and I don’t get accepted back home, I’d be stuck here. Stuck in a place that won’t give me a break from illness and stress and depression. This is not good for my long-term health. He called it a bit of a first world problem: “being accepted into a good grad school but not the one I want”. True, but still my problem. I miss my family lots. He asked why, if this was my biggest fear, I didn’t study harder for a better GPA. I told him simply that this city has made me sick and unmotivated (and oh how it has). He understood, wishing me well. I appreciate the support, but I just wish I could have what he and so many of my friends have – an adaptiveness towards this city and a disposition in favour for what it is. Maybe I’ll find something this summer. After all, I did go back last summer and didn’t really see this whole other possible side to the city. Maybe this summer, I’ll be able to find that which I’m looking for.

107 – The secret to being “liked”.

Came out of my social psych class abnormally happy. My friends gave me a look like I was crazy. But I’ve always been crazy, so that’s okay.

We talked about liking and relationships (not necessarily romantic ones, but relationships with other people in general e.g. friendships, etc).

We all have an intrinsic need to be affiliated with others (have known this since intro psych).

We tend to like people that are similar to us. Makes sense. Common ground to maintain communication, to maintain closeness. Similarity over complementarity (e.g. people like people who are similar rather than “opposites attract”).

We tend to like people who are physically attractive. Affected by factors such as personality and how they dress. Changes culturally.

We tend to like people with close proximity and repeated exposure. The closer they are –> the more often you see them –> the more you like them. That is, if they’re mildy negative, neutral ,or positive stimulus – meaning you don’t already dislike them from the get-go. Seeing someone you dislike continuously only worsens that relationship.

We tend to like people that like us. Mutual liking.This got me thinking. What if I like everyone, will they like me back? I guess that would lead to a higher chance of liking, but not necessarily liking by everyone.


Knowing that someone else likes us causes us to behave differently around that person. We’re warmer to people who respect and like us. We like being liked.

And I think this characteristic of people is a really beautiful thing.

If we just love a little more, there’ll be more love in reciprocity.

Love goes around. And comes back around. And around and around and around.

How beautiful.

And I’m crazy. I know.