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December 6, 2017
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Four hours is all it took for Google's DeepMind artificial intelligence program to learn everything there was to know about chess, The Telegraph reported Wednesday. DeepMind's AlphaZero program, which teaches itself from scratch, achieved "superhuman" knowledge of chess in less than the amount of time you'd spend, say, watching the extended version of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Chess has long been used to test the ability of artificial intelligence because the game's rigid structure is ideal for programming a computer with rules, and then letting it run its own tests against those rules. AlphaZero started this experiment knowing only the basics of chess gameplay, but by playing thousands of games against itself, AlphaZero updated its neural network with information about the effectiveness of certain moves — over and over again, until it became the best chess player in the known universe.

"The games AlphaZero played ... are far beyond anything humans or chess computers have come up with," said David Kramaley, a chess education expert. In 1997, the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov by computing and evaluating positions that were programmed into the machine with the help of chess masters, but AlphaZero is different because it had to teach itself the positions to begin with.

DeepMind's founders hope AlphaZero can be used to solve pressing societal issues. In October, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis said, "If [AlphaZero] can be applied to other structured problems, such as protein folding, reducing energy consumption, or searching for revolutionary new materials, the resulting breakthroughs have the potential to drive forward human understanding and positively impact all of our lives."

Read the entire report on AlphaZero's prowess in chess and other games here. Kelly O'Meara Morales

2:57 p.m. ET
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FBI officials warned Donald Trump that foreign countries like Russia would try to "infiltrate" his campaign as far back as August 2016, NBC News reported Monday. Then the Republican presidential candidate facing off against Hillary Clinton, Trump was apparently briefed on the possibility just weeks after he officially won the GOP nomination.

NBC News reports that counterintelligence officials asked both Clinton and Trump to tell the FBI about any unsavory outreach from foreign actors. Trump most likely received his briefing after Aug. 17, 2016, NBC News reports, by which point several Trump campaign officials had already had the type of interactions that the FBI would be curious about; Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting at Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, for example, occurred in June of that year, even though it was not publicly known until The New York Times reported on it this past July.

Former FBI counterintelligence agent Frank Montoya told NBC News that the intelligence community was "aware of contacts" between Trump campaign officials and Russia prior to Trump's briefing, and claimed officials downplayed that knowledge to Trump so as not "to compromise the investigation." Montoya additionally claimed that if Trump's team was indeed warned of potential foreign interference and then stood by as it appeared to occur, that could be a problem. "If we're telling these guys stuff and they are not acting on it, then we're going to keep that as evidence," Montoya said.

A White House spokesperson downplayed the report and said it was "hardly a news story," citing the fact that both Trump and Clinton were briefed on the matter. Clinton's team did not respond to an NBC News request for comment. Read the full story at NBC News. Kelly O'Meara Morales

2:29 p.m. ET

One of President Trump's judicial nominees has withdrawn from consideration, the White House said Monday, after a clip of him struggling to answer basic legal questions went viral last week. The development marks Trump's third failed judicial nominee, after the nominations of Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer also stalled.

Matthew Spencer Petersen, tapped by Trump to be a federal district judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, endured a brutal period of questioning by Republican Sen. John Kennedy (La.) during his Senate confirmation hearing last week — a performance that critics seized on as evidence that Petersen was unqualified for the job.

In a letter to Trump, Petersen wrote that he was withdrawing from consideration because "it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction — and that is not fair to you or your administration." In the letter, Petersen recounted his legal background; he has been a commissioner of the Federal Election Commission since 2008, including serving as that body's chairman as recently as 2016.

"I have practiced law for almost two decades — in both private practice and public service. I have worked as an attorney in both bodies of Congress," Petersen wrote. "I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television." Read his full withdrawal letter below. Kimberly Alters

1:59 p.m. ET

President Trump tweeted that a devastating train crash in Washington state on Monday illustrates why his infrastructure plan "must be approved quickly":

A timeline for Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul — one of his major campaign promises — has been unclear, although it remains a possible next step in early 2018 after the GOP votes on a tax plan, Politico reports.

There are still an unknown number of casualties from Monday's crash. Trump followed his initial tweet up ten minutes later with another to offer of his "thoughts and prayers" to everyone involved. Jeva Lange

1:53 p.m. ET
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Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are so high that the U.S. and China recently discussed a matter previously unthinkable: North Korea's collapse. China has propped up the North Korean regime for decades in order to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula and keep American troops from their border, but recent developments have apparently spurred Beijing to entertain the possibility of dramatic change.

Last week, while speaking to the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Chinese officials that American troops would enter North Korea should Kim Jong Un's government show signs of deterioration. In particular, the U.S. would be focused on securing the regime's nuclear weapons, Tillerson said, adding the assurance that the U.S. does not desire "regime collapse." Still, should circumstances arise that "unleashed some kind of instability," Tillerson said the U.S. would be ready to act.

China and the U.S. have long avoided discussing life after Kim. Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser on Asia for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP that China has long feared that any discussions with American officials regarding Kim's downfall would lead to Beijing's relationship with Pyongyang "becoming hostile."

But China appears now to be preparing for the worst: Last week, The New York Times reported that the Chinese government is building camps near the border with North Korea to prepare for a potential influx of refugees, while The Washington Post reported two weeks ago that a state-run Chinese newspaper recently spent an entire page on instructing how to survive nuclear fallout. China's foreign ministry gave a coy response to reports of Tillerson's remarks: "You may have to ask [Tillerson] himself about his meanings and intentions." Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:28 p.m. ET

An Amtrak train derailed Monday morning in Washington state, causing "multiple injuries and fatalities," local officials said. Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, said the incident is under investigation.

Troyer said that no motorists were killed in the derailment, and deaths "are all contained to the train. It's pretty horrific." The incident caused a train car to dangle over the major Interstate 5 thoroughfare.

The train was carrying 78 passengers and five crew members when it derailed roughly 40 miles south of Seattle, near Tacoma, just before 8 a.m. local time. It was the inaugural run of a new, high-speed route connecting Seattle and Portland. Amtrak said it was "aware of an incident involving Amtrak train 501." Kimberly Alters

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more details become available.

1:24 p.m. ET
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The United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council vote Monday that would have voided the Trump administration's decision earlier this month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, The Associated Press reports. Fourteen other council members voted in approval of the resolution, making the final tally 14-1.

The resolution, sponsored by Egypt, was expected to be vetoed but it was also intended to demonstrate international disapproval of America's controversial decision. U.N. Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov weighed in ahead of the vote, Reuters reports, saying: "In the wake of the decision of the United States ... the situation has become more tense with an increase in incidents, notably rockets fired from Gaza and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces."

Nikki Haley, America's ambassador to the U.N., said that being forced into the veto by the other members was "an insult. It won't be forgotten." Monday marked the first time the U.S. had used its veto power in the Security Council in more than six years.

"The United States has a sovereign right to determine where and whether we establish an embassy," Haley added. "I suspect very few member states would welcome Security Council pronouncements about their sovereign decisions." Jeva Lange

11:15 a.m. ET
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ESPN President John Skipper resigned from the network Monday, citing a substance abuse problem. "I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem," Skipper said in a statement. "I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation, and a feeling of having let others I care about down."

Skipper said the decision for him to resign was made in tandem with the company. In a separate statement, Bob Iger, the chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, the majority owner of ESPN, said: "I respect [Skipper's] candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family."

Skipper joined ESPN in 1997 and became the company's president in 2012. Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer will oversee a 90-day transition period for the company as it searches for a replacement. Kimberly Alters

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