AlphaGo Is Good at Go, ExoMars Is About to Launch, and Windows 95 Is Still Old | Vol. 3 / No. 20

This week we’ve got more on Google’s AlphaGo, a look forward to the coming launch of the first stage of ExoMars, and a look back at Windows 95. Read on!


A Beautiful (Deep)Mind?

Another win for artificial intelligence | Photo: Jaro Larnos, CC BY 2.0
Another win for artificial intelligence | Photo: Jaro Larnos, CC BY 2.0

Google’s Go-playing DeepMind-based “AlphaGo” AI has just bested the world’s top Go player Lee Se-dol in a three-game streak. The writing was on the wall earlier this year, when the computer (though calling it just a computer seems a little under-descriptive) beat European champion Fan Hui back in October, five games to zero, but since then, reports Wired, Fan Hui has been teaching it to play better — and in return, it’s been teaching him to play better, too. AlphaGo’s DeepMind system takes over a dozen neural networks and hooks them up to an advanced tree search to constantly ask and re-ask questions like “who’s most likely to win the game right now?,” and “what is my opponent going to do next?” to answer the question “what should I do next?” — using the answers from each to feed back and produce an optimal result. After designing a system like that, they then trained it to play by feeding it 30 million moves from human players, before setting to play thousands of games against itself in a process known as “reinforcement learning.” It’s truly a watershed moment for the development of AI, but more than that, it’s a thing of beauty. For more, this Wired article describes how the AI might actually be good for the game of go, and this Google post explains how AlphaGo works.


A Russian Proton-M rocket being readied for launch | Photo: Alex Lane, CC BY-SA 2.0
A Russian Proton-M rocket being readied for launch | Photo: Alex Lane, CC BY-SA 2.0

Another Mars mission is set to take off Monday from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome: ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and stationary Schiaparelli EDM lander. It’s all set at the top of a Proton-M heavy-lift rocket, which, if launched successfully, should see the orbiter reach the red planet in October. Schiaparelli’s mission is twofold. First, it’s going to be used to test landing techniques in advance of the 2018 launch of the ExoMars rover, since a rover’s not terribly useful if you can’t slow it down enough to arrive safely at the surface. Second, it’s going to take three days of observations at the surface at Meridiani Planum during dust-storm season, with a suite of instruments designed to measure airborne dust, humidity, barometric pressure, and temperature. Moreover, if all goes well, it will take the first measurements of electric fields at the surface, especially relating to the electrification of those dust storms. The TGO will take until 2017 to slow down in orbit using aerobraking, at which point it will start mapping methane sources on the surface in order to find a good place to drop the rover in 2018. All in all, it sounds like a great bit of science. You can watch the launch attempt live Monday at 4:30am EDT (8:30 UTC) here.

In related news, Russia’s seriously considering testing a nuclear-powered engine that could make it to Mars in just 45 days — if they can find the money to test it out by 2018.

On Windows 95

This post about teens reacting to Windows 95 is billed as making people feel old. The Verge headline is “Teens React to Windows 95, You React to the Cruelty of Time,” but I can’t say that’s the way it made me feel. For most of the video, I was definitely on-side: in retrospect, Win95 is pretty crappy. But it’s great to see them starting to realize both how far we’ve come, and how important the intermediate steps between punch-cards and iPads really were. I grew up with dial-up, computers that didn’t know how to turn themselves off, and fifty-pound CRT monitors with VGA graphics. I remember needing to use a separate TCP/IP program to connect to the internet before starting up your internet browser (Trumpet Winsock, anyone? Thanks, Peter Tattam!). But all this video makes me feel is happy — happy about how far we’ve come, about how computers have become usable by non-experts, about all the possible futures that I might yet see. If we’ve made it this far in 21 years, how much farther will we go? I, for one, can’t wait.


In case you missed it, this is what we got up to here this week (in handy point form!)

If you missed any of them, now’s your chance to catch up!

Best of the Rest

Here’s some other things I don’t have the time to talk about today, but totally would if I did:

That’s all for this week. Remember, I only get paid in my own (and your) enthusiasm, so please like This Week In Tomorrow on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @TWITomorrow, and tell your friends about the site! Have a great week.