not a lot to lose

For about a month, for ten hours every night on a hundred computers at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, Eurisko ground away at the problem, until it came out with an answer. Most teams fielded some version of a traditional naval fleet – an array of ships of various sizes, each well defended against enemy attack. Eurisko thought differently. The program came up with a strategy of spending the trillion on an astronomical number of small ships like P.T. boats, with powerful weapons but absolutely no defense and no mobility. They just sat there. Basically, if they were hit once they would sink. And what happened is that the enemy would take its shots, and every one of those shots would sink our ships. But it didn’t matter, because we had so many.

soon honey

It was precisely that otherness that led to Eurisko’s victory: not knowing the conventions of the game turned out to be an advantage. Eurisko was exposing the fact that any finite set of rules is going to be a very incomplete approximation of reality. What the other entrants were doing was filling in the holes in the rules with real-world, realistic answers. But Eurisko didn’t have that kind of preconception, partly because it didn’t know enough about the world – so it found solutions that were socially horrifying.

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