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Korean Go body to ban smartphones thanks to Google's AI

The organization is writing new rules to stop AI tools giving players an advantage.
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South Korean Go players will be banned from using smartphones during official tournaments in the future, and it's all thanks to Google's AlphaGo AI. The Korea Times reports that the Korea Baduk Association -- baduk being the local name for Go -- is currently drafting new rules that will outlaw smartphone use in matches. While the organization is fully aware you can't carry AlphaGo around in your pocket at the moment, it's preempting a time when certain AI tools that can give players a competitive edge do become available on smartphones.

It may seem strange that smartphone use is permitted in official Go competitions as it stands, but then there's basically no precedent for digital tools being of any help to experienced players. Though IBM's Deep Blue chess computer beat world champ Garry Kasparov in 1997, the number of variables and strategic complexity of Go have kept programmers from creating bots that exhibit anything more than an amateur skill level.

This all changed with AlphaGo, an AI developed by Google's DeepMind team that uses a neural network for a more human-like approach to problem solving. Last year, AlphaGo claimed a historic 4-1 victory over grandmaster Lee Sedol; and, more recently, a newer prototype version of the AI has been wiping the floor with other top players online.

The Korea Baduk Association isn't in any great rush to implement new rules, since AI Go coaches aren't an immediate threat. "But when it becomes more popular and widespread, we will push ahead with more concrete regulations about the use of smartphones during matches," an association official told The Korea Times. It makes sense that the organization would start thinking about how to keep competition pure now, though, instead of having to react to future tools that can give players a leg up.

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