Go grandmaster Lee Sedol releases NFT of game with AlphaGo
18-time world champion says NFT symbolizes his "entire Go career"
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임준혁 2021년 5월11일 11:00
1997년 12살 나이에 프로 입단한 이세돌 9단은 2019년 은퇴를 선언했다. 출처=코인데스크코리아
Go grandmaster Lee Sedol. ⓒCoindeskkorea

Go grandmaster Lee Sedol has released his own NFT on the digital marketplace OpenSea

Lee’s NFT immortalizes his legendary match with AlphaGo, an AI program developed by Google DeepMind. Lee played a five-game match against AlphaGo from March 5 to 15, 2016. Lee defeated AlphaGo in the fourth game, which took place on March 13 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul. 

Although he lost the other four games, Lee is the only human player who has ever defeated AlphaGo in its 74 official matches.

Lee essentially defeated AlphaGo on Move 78, after which AlphaGo blundered repeatedly until resigning on Move 180. Move 78 has since been dubbed a “divine move” in the Go community.  

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are unique digital collectibles. Because they’re deployed on a decentralized blockchain, they can’t be reproduced or counterfeited. There can only be one owner of any NFT on the Ethereum blockchain. NFTs of works by Banksy and Beeple have fetched astronomical prices, catching the interest of both investors and artists. 

Lee’s NFT is essentially a digital recreation of his fourth game against AlphaGo. It features an alphanumeric sequence that maps out the entire match as it happened. The NFT’s video file displays a Go board where black and white stones are laid out in the order prescribed by the alphanumeric sequence, including Lee’s Move 78. The game concludes with AlphaGo’s resignation, followed by Lee’s signature.

이세돌 9단은 2016년 3월 구글 딥마인드 인공지능 알파고와 다섯 차례 대국을 펼쳤다. 그 중 제4국만이 이 9단의 승리로 돌아갔다. 출처=코인데스크코리아
An image of Lee's NFT, featuring Move 78. ⓒCoindeskkorea

Speaking with CoinDesk Korea on May 4 about the NFT release, Lee said he was fascinated by the idea of making a digital record of a symbolic moment in his 25-year career and immortalizing it on a blockchain.

“It seemed like a fun way to make ripples not only in the Go community but on people from all walks of life,” he said.

Lee made his professional debut in 1997 at age 12. He went on to win 18 world championships throughout his career until retiring in 2019. Lee cited the dominance of AI as the main reason for his retirement, saying AI was an “undefeatable entity” that presented an “insurmountable wall” to human players. 

Looking back on his decision to retire, Lee said, “I’d always played with the goal of being the very best, but once I realized that I was no longer the best, I really couldn’t see the point of playing professionally anymore.”

Lee added that it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see another human player beat AlphaGo or another AI program. 

“You’re more likely to go to America and win the powerball lottery,” he said. 

The historic significance of Lee’s victory makes his NFT that much more unique, a symbol of a moment where the human mind triumphed over computerized calculations. 

“In a way, you could say it [the NFT] symbolizes my entire Go career,” Lee said.

Lee added that he’s willing to invite the winner of the auction to South Korea for a friendly game of Go. 

“It doesn’t matter whether they know a lot about Go or not,” he said.

The auction for Lee's NFT concludes on May 18 at 10 am (Korean Standard Time).

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