Is AlphaZero really a scientific breakthrough in AI?

Jose Camacho Collados :

As you may probably know, DeepMind has recently published a paper on AlphaZero [1], a system that learns by itself and is able to master games like chess or Shogi.

Before getting into details, let me introduce myself. I am a researcher in the broad field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), specialized in Natural Language Processing. I am also a chess International Master, currently the top player in South Korea although practically inactive for the last few years due to my full-time research position. Given my background I have tried to build a reasoned opinion on the subject as constructive as I could. For obvious reasons, I have focused on chess, although some arguments are general and may be extrapolated to Shogi or Go as well. This post represents solely my view and I may have misinterpreted some particular details on which I am not an expert, for which I apologize in advance if it is the case.

Chess has arguably been the most widely studied game in the context “human vs machine” and AI in general. One of the first breakthroughs in this area was the victory of IBM Deep Blue in 1997 over the world champion at the time Garry Kasparov [2]. At that time machines were considered inferior to humans in the game of chess, but from that point onwards, the “battle” has been clearly won by machines.