As an investor, I once financed a group of computer scientists applying machine learning and statistical analysis to outperform the stock market.It took us four or five years to beat the averages by mere hundredths of a percent. This was not a huge advantage. On the other hand, our small team of six was outperforming teams that would typically employ hundreds of professional analysts and portfolio managers.
In classical Chinese painting, one sometimes sees distinguished figures in a mountain retreat, involved in “the four elegant pursuits.” The first three are readily understandable: painting, music, and calligraphy. The fourth is a surprise: the game of Go. Seeing these paintings, it seemed most odd to include a board game in this pantheon of pursuits. But then I realized there was something quintessentially human about the game. Computers simply couldn’t do it. In 1996 an IBM chess program, Deep Blue, beat the then reigning human champion. Its programs were designed by expert chess players, whose algorithms, pared with the computer’s vast calculating powers, produced an unbeatable competitor. 20 years later, no computer program could play Go as well as decent amateur. Until last week.