Beginners often ask how and whether to play against AI opponents, and experienced players might say, “a little is okay, but don’t overdo it,” with varying degrees of caution. The reasons given are usually about AI style. AIs play differently from humans, so there is an important limitation about how well practice games against AI will prepare you for play against humans. But it goes deeper than style or quality of moves alone. There’s something fundamentally missing from the whole human experience of playing the game.
Real intelligence as it occurs in humans and animals is very different from artificial intelligence. It may as well be an alien mind. And not those cute anthropomorphic aliens with two legs and two arms. When we encounter an AI opponent on the goban, we can’t engage with it in the same way we would encounter another naturally intelligent agent. We can anticipate its tendencies, like playing an early 3-3 invasion (which we humans have since re-incorporated into our collective knowledge base, and digested as our own understanding), but we can’t form a “theory of mind” of AI.
“Theory of mind” is the way that we model another being’s feelings, knowledge, and intentions within our own minds. This is a part of playing go! To play a game is not just abstractly reasoning about the board state for each turn. We engage with our human opponent in long term strategizing by trying to anticipate what they’ll do and why. This naturally happens “under the hood” in a deep way. Modeling another person’s mind subconsciously makes a recursive parallel processing network for us, and we can lean on that when we learn and play.