Computer wins first Go game but censorship leaves Chinese in dark

AlphaGo played champion Ke Jie but state banned live coverage of event

China’s 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie reacts during the first match against Google’s artificial intelligence programme AlphaGo.

China’s 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie reacts during the first match against Google’s artificial intelligence programme AlphaGo.


Google DeepMind’s board game-playing artificial intelligence (AI), AlphaGo, won its first game against the Go world number one , Ke Jie, from China – but but most Chinese viewers could not watch the match live.

The Chinese government had issued a censorship notice to broadcasters and online publishers, warning them against livestreaming Tuesday’s game, according to China Digital Times, a site that regularly posts such notices in the name of transparency. “Regarding the Go match between Ke Jie and AlphaGo, no website, without exception, may carry a livestream,” the notice read.

“If one has been announced in advance, please immediately withdraw it.”

The ban did not just cover video footage: outlets were banned from covering the match live in any way, including text commentary, social media or push notifications.


It appears the government was concerned that 19-year-old Ke, who lost the first of three scheduled games by a razor-thin half-point margin, might have suffered a more damaging defeat that would hurt the national pride of a state which holds Go close to its heart. After the game Ke said AlphaGo had become too strong for humans. “I feel like his game is more and more like the ‘Go god,’” he said. “Really, it is brilliant.”

The ban underscores the esteem in which Go is held across east Asia, where it has been played in more or less unmodified form for more than 2,000 years.

First invented in China in 500BC, it was considered one of the four arts a scholarly Chinese gentleman should master, along with playing the guqin, calligraphy and painting. Go was formalised in Japan, where the game arrived in the seventh century. The country developed a system of Go houses, for training and supporting players, and for hundreds of years the houses would compete in the annual castle games for the privilege of playing in the shogun’s presence.


In Korea, where the game arrived in the fifth century, high-level Go players are celebrities in their own right. DeepMind’s first public victory took place against Lee Sedol, the Roger Federer of the game, after the AI won four of five matches covered by media from across the region.

Despite the ban, several Chinese streaming sites such as offered versions of the game for viewers to watch live, replicating it move by move on their own boards. None had actual shots from the event, however. According to business news site Quartz, one Shanghai-based livestreaming site had sent staff to the venue before receiving the ban and withdrawing them on Friday. DeepMind is streaming all three games of the match live, on YouTube. But the video site is blocked in China, along with the rest of Google’s services. – (Guardian)