When Underdogs Break the Rules

Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting article, How David Beats Goliath is about how underdogs, when playing by their own strategies, can beat out the favorite much more often than one would suspect.

Eurisko was an underdog. The other gamers were people steeped in military strategy and history. They were the sort who could tell you how Wellington had outfoxed Napoleon at Waterloo, or what exactly happened at Antietam. They had been raised on Dungeons and Dragons. They were insiders. Eurisko, on the other hand, knew nothing but the rule book. It had no common sense. As Lenat points out, a human being understands the meaning of the sentences “Johnny robbed a bank. He is now serving twenty years in prison,” but Eurisko could not, because as a computer it was perfectly literal; it could not fill in the missing step-“Johnny was caught, tried, and convicted.” Eurisko was an outsider. But it was precisely that outsiderness that led to Eurisko’s victory: not knowing the conventions of the game turned out to be an advantage.

Gladwell responds to a couple of criticisms aimed at the section dealing with Rick Pitino and college basketball.

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