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Go master defeated by Google software, mocked by silver spoon boy

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Ke Jie 柯洁 is a 19-year-old from Lishui in Zhejiang Province. He is also the world’s best player of the ancient Chinese board game Go (围棋 wéiqí), per an algorithmic ranking of historical performances by computer scientist Rémi Coulom. On May 22, Ke lost the first game of a three-part match this week against Google’s Go-playing machine, AlphaGo. Ke was defeated by a narrow margin of half a point. According to The Verge, the software “doesn’t appear to care about the margin of victory, instead choosing moves that it has determined are the most likely to lead to a win.”

AlphaGo first enjoyed the limelight when it trounced the Korean 18-time world champion Lee Sedol four games to one in March 2016, which makes it the first machine to beat a professional human Go player. Although Ke initially declined to have a one-on-one match against AlphaGo after its victory against Lee, the young player nevertheless boasted (in Chinese) on his Weibo account that “AlphaGo may defeat Lee, but it can’t beat me.” In a press conference after his first encounter with his machine rival, Ke explained his defeat by saying that “AlphaGo is improving too fast” and seemed “like a different player this year.”

One reaction to Ke’s loss came from Wang Sicong 王思聪, son of billionaire Dalian Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin 王健林, who wrote: “After your boasting when Lee lost to AlphaGo, where has your cockiness gone now?” The comment has since been deleted from Wang’s Weibo account, but has been widely copied (in Chinese) and roundly condemned by Chinese internet users. Wang’s antics are a regular subject of derision: In 2015, he posted photos of his dog wearing two gold Apple iWatches, enraging many commenters on social media.

The contest was held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, as part of the Future of Go Summit co-sponsored by the Chinese Go Association and Google. The other two games will take place on May 25 and 27. But Chinese Go fans are unable to watch the tournament amid the long-lasting rift between the Chinese government and Google. Three journalists told Quartz that higher authorities had ordered them not to broadcast the match live or even mention Google’s name in their reporting of the event.


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Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.