Ke Jie, China’s top Go player, is taking on Google’s AlphaGo in a three-game match starting from today in east China’s Wuzhen, initiating another head-on confrontation between human wisdom and artificial intelligence. After four and a half hours’ of tough play today, Ke lost the first game by mere 0.5 points to the AI program. The outcome comes as no surprise but much better than people expected.

The three-game match between Ke and AlphaGo, which will be held on May 23, 25 and 27, is part of a five-day Go summit sponsored by Google, the Chinese Go Association, and Sports Bureau of Zhejiang Province.

Ke, born on August 1997, is ranked the world’s No. 1 Go player. The 19-year-old Ke will be paid US$ 300,000 for the appearance and gets an additional US$ 1.5 million if he wins.

In addition, the event will host the pair Go and the team Go match. In the pair Go match, Chinese Go player Gu Li will compete with the other player Lian Xiao on May 26, with each pairing up with his AlphaGo teammate. While in the team Go match, a five-player Chinese team will collectively go up against AlphaGo on the same day.

Ke, who was once confident that he can defeat AlphaGo, has changed his attitude with the latter’s landslide victory against top Go players over the past year. “No matter if I win or lose, this will be my last three games with artificial intelligence,” Ke wrote last night on Chinese microblogging website SinaWeibo.

He admitted that artificial intelligence has been strong enough today and must be the master of the future, yet it is always a cold machine. He added that he can’t feel its passion and love for the Go game found in human beings.

Competing in the contest is the 2.0 version of AlphaGo, which has adopted a new algorithm model different from the AlphaGo 1.0 that has achieved a feat of 60 wins and 0 losses, defeating all challengers including Ke Jie.

AlphaGo’s machine-learning algorithm integrated advantages of both a “policy network” and a “value network”, storing not only innumerable past games played by humans but also those played against the continuously improved versions of itself.

AlphaGo, one of the core creations by Google’s DeepMind, was never meant to only live for challenging humans in the Go match, the most complicated two-player game in the world. Aside from the foray in Go, the AlphaGo program is entering healthcare next, playing an active role in the research and treatment of complicated diseases including diabetes and cancer, said Shi Bomeng, President of Google China.

While there may have been an element of suspense before AlphaGo’s match with Lee Sedol last March, this match with Ke Jie seems to utterly lack it. As was pointed out by former Microsoft and Google China executive Kaifu Lee, the result of the battle between Ke and the updated AlphaGo actually has no other possibility.

On the other hand, this situation is reminiscent of what Heidegger calls “being-towards-death”: “If our being is finite, then an authentic human life can only be found by confronting finitude and trying to make a meaning out of the fact of our death.”

It is like when a person is confronted with the danger of death, he will fight to live. Although the defeat is certain, people still continue to fight without hesitation. Maybe that is the meaning of this battle – to explore the infinite, explore our shortcomings, and fight to improve even though defeat is certain.

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Sheila Yu

Sheila Yu is a Shanghai-based technology writer. She brings readers the biggest news from Chinese language tech media. Reach her at

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