There was a story a week or so ago about a computer program beating the world’s best Go players. Apparently Go is an ancient Chinese game that has more or less an infinite number of possible moves and is therefore considered to be the ultimate test of artificial intelligence (AI)*. I know nothing about either Go or AI but apparently this is a big deal. The original article is hidden behind a pay wall, but I was able to pull out a couple of quotes that sparked a spot of thinking.
“The (computer program) made moves that seemed foolish but inevitably led to victory over the world’s best players.”
This quote seems to suggest that the computer understood the game and played it in a completely different way to humans have been playing it. On that theme the current world champion was quoted as saying,
“After humanity spent thousands of years improving tactics, computers tell us humans are completely wrong. I would go as far as to say that not a single human has touched the edge of the truth of Go.”
As I am avowed questioner of conventional wisdom these thoughts really piqued my interest and obviously I thought about applying them to volleyball. Like everything, there is a set of parameters about the game that are accepted as conventional wisdom. For example, according to the rules a team is allowed only three contacts. The conventional wisdom is that using all three contacts is the most effective way of playing. But is it? As I have written about earlier, Frenchman Earvin N’Gapeth has become famous for, among other things, not always using three contacts. Watching him live I was struck by how obvious those plays actually are. Once you accept that it is possible, his actions are the easiest and best solutions. I would say that nearly everything we do In practice, is in some way based on conventional wisdom. For some coaches more than others, but there is a lot of it there.
The computer who won in Go won by playing in a different way than people who were locked into a way of thinking going back thousands of years. What would happen if that computer decided to try to play volleyball? Would it use three contacts every time? I think, deep down, we already know the answer is no. Would spikers jump off two feet? Would there be such a thing as the underarm pass? Would we train in the same way? And if the answer to any of those questions is no, what would the alternative be? How would the computer solve the problem of the game?
I don’t think any of us has touched the edge of the truth of volleyball.