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Game Theory article on Daily Kos

edited June 2011 in Board Games
My MOM sent me this. :)

Our lives are at every moment strategic and tactical. We have big, ambitious goals "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", where of the trio there is a difference between the strategically abstract goal of happiness and the tactical objective of pursuing happiness whether in a bar or in a battlespace as in the cinematic situations presented in A Beautiful Mind or Jarhead.

Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions),by Ken Binmore, Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA, Pages: 144, Publish year: 2007, ISBN-10: 0199218463, ISBN-13: 9780199218462 This is the publishers description: Games are everywhere: Drivers maneuvering in heavy traffic are playing a driving game. Bargain hunters bidding on eBay are playing an auctioning game. The supermarket's price for corn flakes is decided by playing an economic game. This Very Short Introduction offers a succinct tour of the fascinating world of game theory, a ground-breaking field that analyzes how to play games in a rational way. Ken Binmore, a renowned game theorist, explains the theory in a way that is both entertaining and non-mathematical yet also deeply insightful, revealing how game theory can shed light on everything from social gatherings, to ethical decision-making, to successful card-playing strategies, to calculating the sex ratio among bees. With mini-biographies of many fascinating, and occasionally eccentric, founders of the subject--including John Nash, subject of the movie A Beautiful Mind--this book offers a concise overview of a cutting-edge field that has seen spectacular successes in evolutionary biology and economics, and is beginning to revolutionize other disciplines from psychology to political science.

This diary while discussing a brief introductory text does imply that there is a very significant interdisciplinary project that is relevant to the democratic political project of DK. While I am not a "game theoretician" per se, I hope that those in the DK community might contribute and help facilitate the discussion. .

I thought about this review when I saw a reference in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood to the choice of a sexual conquest by Will Scarlett as following a rule of choosing the less attractive woman standing on the left of every group of women in a drunken, dancing celebration. It referred to Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind where the common historiographic factor is Russell Crowe playing not Robin Hood but the future Nobel Laureate John Nash, also in a situation of drink and play, and telling his peers the optimal solution to "get the girl". This is more pleasurable in terms of the pursuit of happiness than that portrayed in Dr. Strangelove, which also has a game-theoretic article discussing its applicability to political science. As meta-theoretic as a cinematic reference this example might be minor, but it shows how in small amounts, game theory affects everyday life and it is the deeply considered assimilation of such very short introductions that make our understanding of quantitative topics easier in a qualitative and grounded context. This skill building can make even the most mundane of policy matters such as the GOP bluffing on the debt ceiling more understandable.

There are fortunately many game theory texts that serve to introduce the research project and its applications with much mystification as to its effectiveness and relevance. Here's a brief link to cover the basics.

What becomes evident to anyone beginning to explore the subject is that some contentious conceptions of what constitutes rationality, information and cooperation are highly contestable.

Contents of Game theory: A Short Introduction
There are ten chapters with a references and further reading section.

Chapter 1: Binmore begins with the usual references to potential game situations: Anthony and Cleopatra, Hitler and Stalin, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Binmore comments on how game theory used to be dismissed as another "ineffectual branch of social science", but that could be refuted by the example of the US telecommunications spectrum auctions and Binmore's own role in a subsequent British telecom auction to the tune of $35 billion in just one auction. Evolutionary biology, economics and political science have family resemblances that may be mapped by game theoretic modeling. The history of Von Neumann and Morgenstern are introduced with John Nash's contribution in terms of the Nash Equilibrium and the Prisoner's Dilemma where the choice of strategies and their alternatives can have in the context of some presumed rationality.

Chapter 2: Chance and probability are then discussed as ways to distinguish between what in the simplest cases are pure strategies and mixed strategies. For example minimax and maximin strategies are discussed which while important certainly for linear programming and military procurement, it is more understandable to the casual reader as rock-paper-scissors, cards or dueling.

Chapter 3:Time and Information becomes important as chess, poker, and kidnapping with the issue of how perfect is the information assumed in the construction of games and the methods needed to understand that perfection in games especially under repetition and what are called subgames. As with the first chapter, reference is made to the increasing bodies of empirical experimentation in a variety of fields attempting to test the effectiveness of such models.

Chapter 4: Conventions, especially when two persons are choosing between joint actions whether it's sharing the road or dinner begins to depend on the rules or conventions that can often get complicated by the language or labels used. Mutual trust, whether hunting a stag or framing a problem of sharing a commons can be seen in an analytic yet potentially tragic way that also can be seen in the Robin Hood myth.

Chapter 5: Reciprocity is a part of all gaming whether cooperative or non-cooperative and as one repeats turns in a game the question of the type and intensity of such reciprocity as punishment or penalty adds more value to the problem of game theoretic modeling

Chapter 6: Information in games of poker and chicken in more detail incorporate earlier notions as we consider incomplete information and bluffing as enhancements to game play. Preferences and beliefs as matters of information, convention and reciprocity become aspects of our choice of action in games. Signaling is introduced as a way of transmitting information during play and it becomes clear that stakes could become higher or more costly as one commits further to the conventions of game play.

Chapter 7: Auctions as an example of an organized game become even more important as examples because of the above topics where the type and design of auction can change strategy: the differences among English, Dutch, first-price sealed-bid, and Vickrey auctions are introduced. The difference between a public or common value and a private value auction are discussed with a tiny example using the leasing of natural resource rights.

Chapter 8: Evolutionary Biology is one of the most useful developments for game theoretic modeling applied to biological activity and social or cultural evolution and to see how bio-social selection cooperation and conflict can be modeled. Binmore even includes a mention of George Price in terms of the development of evolutionarily stable strategies since Price committed suicide "reportedly because he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his fundamental contributions to evolutionary biology with his religious convictions."

Chapter 9: Bargaining and Coalitions shows how cooperative, rather than presumed non-cooperative game theory can operate, although this is where presumptions of rationality and irrationality can be dicey. Commitment, time and risk come into play with context and contingency becoming more important for modelimng. What counts as fairness can be quite complicated in this context but its applicability to the current situation in Wisconsin certainly comes to mind in terms of "take-it-or-leave-it" approaches to bargaining.

Chapter 10: Puzzles and Paradoxes abound in the field ranging from common knowledge problems to commitment, categorical imperative, and the wasted vote are described.

Best parts of the book: It reminded me of how diverse my graduate seminars needed to be to discuss the applications of such modeling and that like any such activity, the relation between the actual historical circumstances and the attractiveness of counterfactuals to provide more elegant or robust solutions needed to be seen in analytic perspective. Like the entire Very Short Introductions series by Oxford University Press, it is invaluable for those wanting a quick, yet rich and accessible introduction to a complex topic

Worst parts of the book: it still did require a sense of how to think in a mathematical way, not in terms of arithmetic but in terms of making some useful and viable assumptions in order not to get the problem right but to demonstrate the principle. In DK this is often the problem in polling and the display of charts or graphs, given the diversity of the internet audience

Summary of Ken Binmore's Very Short Introduction
You don't need any math skills to read this book and hopefully you will find its relevance to many of your activities or those in your environment. For those with greater analytic background as well as a progressive bent, I recommend the works of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis whose new book, A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution, should be useful to a wide audience


  • Your mom is cool. 'course I knew this before you posted this article.
  • lol

    Tell her I said hello! :D
  • ...
    Either very well played or it went right over your head. I can't decide.
  • That's what she said.
  • image
    Simple yet perfectly executed. Well done! ^_^

    More on topic, this looks like a really interesting book. The fact that it is available for Kindle means I will be buying it shortly.
  • Sonic, you should be ashamed. Hand over your womanizer title till you can defend yourself from such a brush of jokes.
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