Man v machine: can computers cook, write and paint better than us?

Artificial intelligence can now win a game, recognise your face, even appeal against your parking ticket. But can it do the stuff even humans find tricky?

One video, for me, changed everything. It’s footage from the old Atari game Breakout, the one where you slide a paddle left and right along the bottom of the screen, trying to destroy bricks by bouncing a ball into them. You may have read about the player of the game: an algorithm developed by DeepMind, the British artificial intelligence company whose AlphaGo programme also beat one of the greatest ever Go players, Lee Sedol, earlier this year.

Perhaps you expect a computer to be good at computer games? Once they know what to do, they certainly do it faster and more consistently than any human. DeepMind’s Breakout player knew nothing, however. It was not programmed with instructions on how the game works; it wasn’t even told how to use the controls. All it had was the image on the screen and the command to try to get as many points as possible.

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