Named AlphaGo Zero, the AI program has been hailed as a major advance because it mastered the ancient Chinese board game from scratch, and with no human help beyond being told the rules. In games against the 2015 version, which famously beat Lee Sedol, the South Korean grandmaster, AlphaGo Zero won 100 to 0.

The feat marks a milestone on the road to general-purpose AIs that can do more than thrash humans at board games. Because AlphaGo Zero learns on its own from a blank slate, its talents can now be turned to a host of real-world problems.

At DeepMind, which is based in London, AlphaGo Zero is working out how proteins fold, a massive scientific challenge that could give drug discovery a sorely needed shot in the arm.