Computers have mastered chess. They’ve cracked “Jeopardy!’ But it seems even they can’t figure out “Game of Thrones.”
Maybe there’s hope for the human race.
For those of you who care about the recently concluded HBO series, be warned – there’s spoilers ahead. (Also, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, Rhett leaves Scarlett, and “Rosebud” was the sled. Just saying.) On the other hand, if Westeros isn’t your cup of tea, stay with me, OK? I promise, we’re going somewhere from this.
OK, back to the computer.
Game of Thrones is known for a high body count among its heroes and villains, with survival rates that are about as good as a Denver Broncos head coach. (The joke goes that when George R.R. Martin logs onto Twitter, he kills off all 280 characters.) So, computer science students at the Technical University of Munich in Germany were given a challenge – create an artificial intelligence algorithm that would predict who had the best chance of surviving the final season.
They programmed the AI. They fed it the data. And they concluded the most likely survivor – a 99 percent chance! – was the Mother of Dragons herself, Daenerys Targaryen.
This would be the same Daenerys who got stabbed to death in the final episode, by the way.
I’m sharing this for a few reasons. First, as a reminder that computer intelligences depend on our intelligence, and are only as good as the assumptions we make. Second, to reassure diehard Daenerys fans – and oh, my, there are a lot of you on the internet – that even the experts were on your side.
But most of all, I wanted to point out that the biggest survivor of all wasn’t even on the list. I don’t mean any of the kings or queens or dragons or warlords … not directly, anyway.
I mean the story.
The story that engrossed people for eight seasons. The adventure that had millions of people arguing about the fate of its characters, before, during, and after its conclusion. Love or hate, agree or disagree, the tale was not being ignored.
And it’s a fundamental part of who we are.
I’ve said this here before: we are creatures of story. We look for meaning, narrative, connection in every part of our lives. Sometimes we find them in Westeros, or Middle-Earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
But many times, we find our story in something bigger yet. The causes we stand for. The beliefs we hold. The traditions and histories we carry on, and where we see our role in them. Those are stories on an epic scale, ones that men and women would willingly die for.
Have willingly died for.
We’ve reached another Memorial Day. It’s the time when many of us recount the stories of our fallen – who they were, what they did, why they did it. It’s also a time, perhaps, when we think of the story that motivated them to fight and die in the first place – the dream made real, the ideal made true, the hope that a particular hope could be carried on through generations.
Because ultimately, that’s what our country is supposed to be. A hope. A promise. An imperfectly kept promise, it’s true, at many times to many people. The story is far from finished, always being written, always taking shape.
But it’s still our story. Through all its twists and turns, we still have the power to write the next chapter. And with that, the duty to remember the authors who came before – military and civilian, young and old – and consider what the story they’ve given us mean, and what our part in it will be.
“There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” Tyrion Lannister declared in the final episode of Game of Thrones. “Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”
Take up the tale. Tell it well.
Because no computer ever made can do it as well as you.