Friday, June 08, 2012

The Prisoner's Dilemma, the Fermi Paradox, and War Games

I have enough life experience and self-knowledge to recognize when I'm being totally intellectually obsessive on some topic. And for sure, when I start to quote myself I've reached some critical threshold of narcissism. But never the less, here are some footnotes that I added to a recent blog article (which was only peripherally on this topic) that I'm reposting here because I'm so enamored with these ideas.

"The prisoner's dilemma also applies to the Fermi Paradox, which frames the contradiction between the statistical likelihood of technological extraterrestrial civilizations with the fact that so far there is no evidence of such. The dominant but sub-optimal strategy is for each civilization to try to wipe out all the others before someone does it to them. I'm voting for weaponized von Neumann machines. It's interesting (to me anyway) that John von Neumann, the inventor of game theory, also invented the idea of self-replicating automata. I'd like to think that weaponized von Neumann machines of extraterrestrial origin are the untold backstory to books and movies about the zombie apocalypse. Or of the Borg race from the Star Trek universe. The central theme, in my opinion, of the Borg story arc in Star Trek is that the Borg applied the dominant strategy of betrayal to the prisoner's dilemma while the members of the United Federation of Planets chose the cooperative optimal strategy."

"The WOPR U.S. automated defense computer learns the inefficiency of nuclear war by playing tic-tac-toe in the movie WarGames. But a much better game, and one that likely actually came from nuclear strategists, would be to have it play a repeated prisoner's dilemma game where it would learn the benefit of cooperation over betrayal. On the other hand, this is exactly the plot of the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, and that didn't turn out so well due to what economists would call an externality."

Let's all hope I get over this once I've finished reading Dixit and Nalebuff''s book Thinking Strategically.


bookwench said...

Ok, so Thinking Strategically - how well do you like it as a book?

Chip Overclock said...

I'm really enjoying it. But I'm a bit of a dilettante about game theory and have been for some time. I read Dixit and Nalebuff's later book THE ART OF STRATEGY when it first came out and really liked it. And I studiously watched a twelve-hour lecture series on DVD by Scott Stevens on the subject. Also, I really liked Austin's book on MEASURING AND MANAGING PERFORMANCE IN ORGANIZATIONS, which applies game theory to incentive programs, so much so I've given talks about it. Game theory has fundamentally changed the way I view the world and, seriously, made me a better person.

Craig Ruff said...

Off this topic, but Dennis Feltham Jones also wrote a book titled "Denver is Missing", which is about a drilling disaster causing world wide havok.