Google co-founder Sergey Brin and CEO Sundar Pichai showed up on Tuesday at a Go training center in Beijing. According to Google’s Weibo official account, they observed the training of Go players, and played the board game with top Chinese Go masters Nie Weiping and Yu Bin.

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Pichai and Brin visit Beijing. Photo from Google’s official Weibo page.

This is the second time that Pichai visited China this year. In March, after AlphaGO of Google DeepMind defeated Go master Lee Sedol of South Korea, Pichai visited Nie Weiping’s Go school and talked about Go with top players, including Ke Jie.

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Pichai in Beijing earlier this year. Photo from Baidu Images.

Yet this time, Ke Jie was not present. According to NetEase Tech, Ke at the moment was in Guizhou province of southern China, preparing for a final match at the 3rd Bailing Cup World Go Open Tournament, scheduled on Wednesday.

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When Ke Jie first met Sundar Pichai. Photo from Baidu Images

Will Ke Jie become the next opponent of AlphaGO?

Ke Jie is a 19-year-old Chinese professional 9th dan Go player, who officially started studying Go at the age of five. He is currently ranked as No.1 in the world under Rémi Coulom’s unofficial ranking system.

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The young master himself, Ke Jie. Photo from Baidu Images

AlphaGO on the other hand is DeepMind’s Go-playing software, based on artificial intelligence. In March, when AlphaGO won the match with Lee Sedol, who at that moment ranked No.4 in the world, Chinese netizens were already wondering when AlphaGO would play against Ke Jie.

Ke once wrote on his Weibo page, “Even if AlphaGO can defeat Lee Sedol, it can’t beat me.” Yet his stance seems to have altered a little as he recently stated, “With my current proficiency, I may not defeat AlphaGO for now. I must work harder.” NetEase Sports reported.

Earlier this November, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis announced on Twitter that AlphaGO, now ranked No.2 in the world, will play more games in early 2017, with more details to come.

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Will AlphaGO play against Ke Jie? Will Ke accept the challenge?

The purpose of Pichai and Brin’s visit 

Perhaps AlphaGO’s next opponent will indeed be a Chinese player. Though it is unclear yet as to why the Google co-founder and CEO paid this visit on Tuesday, Pichai did mention that AlphaGO has been continuing its study of Go, according to NetEase Sports.

Pichai joined Google in 2004. Before he was appointed as the CEO of Google in 2015, he led the product management and innovation efforts for products such as Google Chrome. During his career, he also oversaw the development of different products, including Gmail and Google Maps.

The two visits of Pichai to Go training bases in China this year may indicate his own interests in the board game as well, and he is not alone. Brin also played against a Chinese master this time. We do not know who won the game.

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Brin takes on a Chinese Go master. Photo from Google’s official Weibo page.

Brin is a computer scientist, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He met Larry Page when he was studying for a PhD in computer science at Stanford University. The two became friends and built a web search engine in their dormitory room, before they founded Google together in 1998. Brin is also the president of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.

Artificial intelligence is the future?

Go, or “Weiqi” in Chinese, is a board game played on a 19-by-19 grid. It entails up to 200 turns in a game, compounding to a bewilderingly large number of possible endings – more than the total number of atoms in the entire observable universe.

Therefore, to compete with a human master of Go, merely calculating all possible end games in order to suggest the next move is not enough. The machine must also be able to think intuitively and in a human-like manner. Based on artificial intelligence, AlphaGO learns from innumerable played games in the past, using deep learning technologies.

It may not be a surprise when AlphaGO beats all human Go players and becomes the world No.1 in Go. Would you really be shocked?

(All photos taken from Google’s official Weibo page, and Baidu Images)

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Ke graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master's Degree in English and has worked on projects with Ipsos MORI and SDI Media. She's particularly intrigued by China's thriving technology scene and is eager to write about this flourishing industry.