In March 2016, world champion Lee Sedol pitted his skills in the game of Go against the AlphaGo algorithm developed by DeepMind in a series of five matches. Sedol famously lost, however something quite ground breaking happened in the 37th move of the second game.
Go is a game of strategy for two players, in which the aim is to surround more parts of the board than your opponent. The game was most likely to have been invented in China more than 2,500 years ago and it spread throughout South East Asia in the 5th and 7th Centuries. It is believed to be the oldest board game that has been continuously played to the present day.
There are two sets of playing pieces (or stones), one black and one white. When players have agreed which colour each will use, they take turns placing the stones on the vacant intersections (or points) of the Go board which is usually made up of a grid of 19 x 19 parallel lines. Once stones have been placed on the board, they cannot be moved. However they can be removed from the board if they are captured. Capture happens when a stone or group of stones is surrounded by opposing stones on all adjacent points. The game proceeds until neither player wishes to make another move. When a game concludes, the winner is determined by counting each player’s surrounded territory along with captured stones and komi (points added to the score of the player with the white stones as compensation for playing second). Games can also be ended by the resignation of either player.
After making his 36th move, Sedol retired for a break. Whilst he was out of the room, AlphaGo (which was playing as black) asked its human representative to place a stone on the line five steps in from the edge of the board. This caused Sedol to flinch when he returned to the board, as it is against normal convention in the game, where tradition has always held that during the early part of Go, players should only play stones on the outer four lines. However, rather than this being a mistake by the AI, it transpired that this move was the key to establishing control of the board and earned AlphaGo its second victory.
What do we take away from this?
There are two clear lessons here:
That to ultimately succeed in life, you have to have a game plan. Success is often built upon much earlier ‘moves’, to continue the Go analogy. So if you are at that stage in your life when you are thinking about the next career move or where you want to be in 10 years time, are you thinking about the moves you need to make now? As a good friend of mine used to say:
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there .
Musings of Walt Wycherley
Where you have a clear idea of where you want to be in later life, are you following the right path? Sometimes you have to sit back and reflect and plan the 37th move, because that is the critical step that will enable you to take the 100th! Shame to completely miss the opportunity…
Conventional thinking is not always a good strategy. We see abundant evidence of this in the UK where internet based businesses have prospered where traditional shop based businesses that have not fully embraced the virtual economy have floundered.
Challenging conventional thinking is not of itself a new idea. Most recently we have seen the likes of Google and Amazon deliberately ‘disrupt’ conventional business models.
Hence the key question is, are you a slave to convention in your career and if so, is this the right long term strategy for you? .
The learning piece
Since AlphaGo beat Sedol in the second game, human competitors have started to follow this tactic (not constraining themselves to the first four rows in the early part of the game). Hence the discovery of a novel 37th move by the AI has taught Go players a new way to play this ancient game. This is probably one of the first examples where AI has taught human kind something rather than vice versa.
So what is your 37th move? What do you have in mind – a career trajectory or career anonymity (where any road will do)? Perhaps its time to do what AlphaGo does and think about it? Remember, you are building the steps to your future career now, so choose wisely unless you are genuinely excited by the thought of leaving your future to chance. At least, as human beings, we have the freedom to choose, provided it is a conscious decision, but then only you will know that.
If you are having challenges focusing on the ‘right’ things in life, why not give us a call?