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Blog: If Life is Like Tetris


It’s funny how the most random things could set off such seemingly unrelated thoughts. I was watching a Real Engineering video about the various challenges of building a self-driving car and around twelve-minutes into it, the video talked about an artificial intelligence (AI) program developed by Dr. Tom Murphy that was designed to play video games. The video announcer said,

[The AI program was] developed to do something relatively simple, to play Tetris. This program worked brilliantly, but Tetris always wins. The game is unbeatable, and you will eventually lose. When confronted with this option, the program did something to ensure it wouldn’t lose- it paused the game.

It paused the game. After hearing those words, I had to stop the video and think about the things that had started racing through my mind.

The AI program about to lose a game of Tetris. Not sure if this can be considered as the AI playing “brilliantly”. However, what’s more important is what the AI decides to do next.
The AI program deciding to pause the game seconds before a defeat.

If we consider the version of Tetris that goes on forever until the player is defeated, then in some ways, Tetris is a metaphor for life. It’s impossible to “beat” life like how it’s impossible to “beat” Tetris as everyone loses at some point. Eventually, there will come a time when there are too many blocks moving at too fast of a speed and not enough time to prevent a game over. What was interesting was that given this conclusion, the AI ultimately decided to give up playing the game because it did not want to lose. It literally refused to take an L.

How should one approach Tetris then? Do you play the game with the intention of winning or with the intention of not losing, bearing in mind that loss is inevitable? I know that in the end it does not matter, but I think the AI is not improving itself by not playing more games, collecting more data, and learning from failed trials. Also, Tetris is a game and is meant to be experienced and enjoyed — not something to be closely guarded against. One should not be so afraid that the fear of failure paralyzes them from playing. Or maybe I was referring to life and not Tetris.

This is far from the intended take away from the Real Engineering video, but if life is like Tetris, then life is meant to be lived like how Tetris is meant to be played.

Although “living life” is such a big phrase and means different things to everyone, I like to believe that part of living life is recognizing that losses are inevitable for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up.

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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