For the past couple of weeks internet has been abuzz with news of the computer beating a human champion at Go. Everyone says that Go is more complex than chess because it has far more possible moves, more than the atoms in the universe, the story goes, so beating human at this game was unexpected. Go players can’t possibly calculate all the moves themselves and rely on intuition and it’s this part that offered them an advantage over computers until this latest match. Does it mean that computers cracked the intuition puzzle? Not really.
First of all, we don’t know what intuition is and how it works, and how exactly it differs from instinct. Instincts are a sort of hard wired memories that work outside of our conscious control, they are glorified reflexes. We can try and suppress them but we can’t stop them from being triggered. Instincts can be explained by evolution, intuition, however remains elusive. It isn’t genetic and the best we can come up with is that it taps into memories we don’t realize are there.
That’s not a perfect answer, IMO. In Go, for example, a person can’t possibly collect enough memories and yet every serious Go player relies on intuition as a matter of habit. Intuition requires a certain mastery of the skill but can’t be a result of simple exposure. One should know HOW the thing works, not simply collect an inhuman number of possibilities and let his subconscious mind do the brute force calculations. Maybe there’s a better explanation but I haven’t heard it yet.
This makes intuition into one of those areas of science where everyone knows it’s true but no one can explain it in mechanical terms and no one talks about it. Unlike the origin of life it’s not being widely discussed, just ignored by the militant evolutionists.
In our philosophy intuition is not defined either but we usually explain it as an intervention from the Supersoul. It could be an intervention from presiding deities of the particular activity, too. Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke of intuition as a sign that there’s a living soul within the body (CC Ādi 6.14-15), capitalizing on atheists’ inability to explain it scientifically. Either way, its origin lies outside of gross matter observable by science.
So, did this computer, Google’s AlphaGo, crack the intuition? It wasn’t programmed to channel presiding deity of the Go, and I suppose there’s one there. Brute force attack might be beyond computers abilities but it shouldn’t be a problem for demigods who do know possible outcomes of every move. It’s not a problem for Kṛṣṇa, too.
When these entities interfere in our games they are not trying to win themselves but they are trying to award us the results of our karma. If we are destined to celebrate the victory they offer help and if we are destined to lose they cloud our judgement and force us to make mistakes. In these cases we are amused by “how” but for the demigods it’s “what for” that is more important. We are playing a game of Go but they are enforcing laws of karma by any means necessary.
Could they have interfered with the computer? Possibly but unlikely because we know how AlphaGo works, we know how it’s programmed and we know what data it processes. There’s a little mystery left in this case, however.
AlphaGo is programmed to avoid resorting to brute force calculations by collecting a large number of Go situations and adapting solutions already thought up by human players. It outsources thinking instead of doing it itself. As the match against its human opponent progressed the computer was allowed to go on the internet and search for suitable plays if it couldn’t find ones in its memory. On one level it could be considered cheating because human players aren’t allowed to consult anyone during the game but everyone let this one go on this occasion. It was the handicap they were willing to afford to the computer.
What surprised everyone in this match was that on some occasions the computer chose inexplicable solutions. Human observers didn’t understand the moves and computer programmers haven’t had the chance to trace computer’s decisions either. Maybe in the next few weeks or months they will come up with exact explanation where and how the computer found these particular moves but so far it’s a mystery. At the moment no one can explain why these moves even worked and so the possibility of divine intervention is still there.
Why would a demigod help a computer? Well, it didn’t, it awarded victory to humans who created and programmed it and, like with intuition, they don’t really know how it happened to them, it just did.
There’s a question about the use of intuition by human players, too. Go has a very large board with an impossible number of moves but key battles happen in very small areas with possibilities only in single digits. Of course with moves and counter moves the number of possibilities still increases exponentially but it is possible for humans to calculate them with brute force. Intuition comes in play when outcomes of these little battles are placed in a greater picture, how these small losses or victories affect other areas of the board. This is where brute force fails and humans can only estimate the outcome, and that’s what they call the intuition. “It doesn’t look right”, that’s all they know at this point, and they can’t possibly explain how and why except in very broad terms, and there’s no rule book for them to refer to.
Is it intuition as an insight provided by gods or is it simply inability to verbalize all their thoughts that flash in their minds in a split second? Lots of professionals can’t be bothered either if someone bugs them with detailed explanation of every step they make in the course of their job. I don’t think it’s intuition per se, they just literally can’t be bothered but could explain it if it comes to that.
Take the example of driving – there are great many factors involved in each particular decision on the road. People estimate how other cars would move depending not only on their speed but also on their make, appearance, position on the road, perhaps a short history of observing their behavior etc etc. Sometimes it’s entirely cultural and a person from another city would not be able to read the situation in the same way. Google has a driverless car, of course, and so far it’s doing an amazing job, but most of us can drive practically on autopilot without giving it any conscious thought. Is it intuition? I don’t think so. Does it mean that our brains have this hidden capacity to perform as well as Google Car’s computer? Possibly. Or maybe it’s just our karma that forces us to turn or hit the brakes.
We, again, are interested in “how” but for the karma it’s “what for” that’s important in these cases. For the law of karma every movement of every atom is known precisely and calculated for the duration of the universe, it doesn’t need to replicate these calculations through our brains, just manifest them in our minds.
Anyway, without clear explanations in out literature it’s all only speculative but it feels like it helps me understand the workings of the material nature better, so it’s not all in vain.