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Yoroku: For good or bad, AI the way of the future

A chess-playing machine called "Turk" played chess against French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century. The human-like figure with an Oriental look sat behind a cabinet on which a chessboard was placed.

When Napoleon, who laughingly took on the challenge, purposely played foul, the figure made a bow and returned the opponent's piece to its original spot. When Napoleon repeatedly committed fouls, the figure shook its head and toppled all the pieces on the board. While Napoleon had at first been skeptical, he praised the puppet maker for this and played the game all over again.

The figure was actually manipulated by a puppeteer from inside the cabinet, but its elaborate setup fascinated American politician and scientist Benjamin Franklin, who enjoyed playing chess with it, as well as American poet and author Edgar Allan Poe, who gave his reasoning for the figure's tricks, according to "The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine," authored by Tom Standage.

Today, it is not uncommon for an artificial intelligence (AI) system to beat leading human Go players. At the beginning of this year, a mysterious Go player, apparently operated by an AI system, caused a buzz among Go fans by crushing world-famous professional opponents one after another in online matches. The speed of AI's progress is simply overwhelming.

In late December, a Japanese insurance company's plan to slash nearly 30 percent of staff at its health insurance payment assessment department by introducing an AI system made the headlines. Just when it appears that AI is threatening human employment, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is set to launch experiments on AI's use in helping bureaucrats draft responses for the Diet's question and answer sessions.

One is tempted to wonder if legislators will also soon start drafting their Diet questions with AI. Just as the chess-playing machine Turk knocked down Franklin and Napoleon, AI may score a series of victories in Diet debates. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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