August 22, 2009

The soothing sounds of game theory

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a prominent applied game theorists, which means he can see the future in a way tarot cards can't.
“That’s the outcome,” Bueno de Mesquita said confidently, tapping the screen.

What does 118 mean? It means that Iran won’t make a nuclear bomb. By early 2010, according to the forecast, Iran will be at the brink of developing one, but then it will stop and go no further. If this computer model is right, all the dire portents we’ve seen in recent months — the brutal crackdown on protesters, the dubious confessions, Khamenei’s accusations of American subterfuge — are masking a tectonic shift. The moderates are winning, even if we cannot see that yet."


Rest easy folks: Israel won't have a justification for bombing Iran any time soon. Nice to know.


Game theory is mathematical modeling applied to humans. Humans are awfully predictable. Sad but true. A bit of solid maths, some smart modeling, a big dollop of prosaic human drives and badda-bing: the future is in your hands, not just to see, but to toy with as you will.


Bruce Bueno de Mesquita doesn't give probabilities, he's a yes / no kind of guy, ones and zeros. Something either will or won't happen. Crisp. Sturdy.


He offers up his expensive skills and computing program to both corporate and political clients, telling them what will happen and, one imagines, if asked and paid for, providing strategies on how to influence those events to make them come to fruition, or to change the outcome: game plans, in other words.


According to Bueno de Mesquita:

"Global warming is another area where politics are doomed to fail. World governments are set to meet this December in Copenhagen to commit to firm CO2-reduction levels — but when Bueno de Mesquita modeled the future of these targets, most countries renege on them. No democratic government will seriously limit CO2 if it will hurt its citizens economically.


“When people are asked to make personal sacrifices for the greater good in the longer term, they seem to find 1,001 reasons why their particular behavior is so virtuous that this one particular deviation is really O.K.,”

In that real world, that's a fairly cheap truth that any of us could have dreamed up while brushing our teeth, all without the aid of a computer or a six figure consultancy fee.


Meanwhile, back to Iran, with more soothing words:


"Bueno de Mesquita also approved of Obama’s hands-off approach. Bueno de Mesquita ran an experimental version of his Iranian model without the U.S. in it as a player at all, and the coalitions that oppose Ahmadinejad and the bomb emerge a few months more quickly. In other words, American meddling is indeed counterproductive; the less America tries to influence Iran, the more quickly Iran will abandon nuclear weapons, if the logic of the computer is correct."


Now, if only we could collect enough money to buy Bueno de Mesquita services to find out how many party leaders the Liberal party will chew through during the next decade, and to find out if or when Gillard will make a play for Kev's job.


Can game theory predict when Iran will get the bomb?

3 comments:

  1. When people are asked to make personal sacrifices for the greater good in the longer term, they seem to find 1,001 reasons why their particular behavior is so virtuous that this one particular deviation is really O.K.

    Where have I heard this before?

    Or to sum up with a briefer phrase, "We don't DO sacrifice!"

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  2. This is crap on so many levels that I'm at a loss over where to start.

    Perhaps BB de M should get the politics out of his mathematics & then I might listen to him.

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  3. Dan - we should turn that into a bumper sticker.

    Seriously dude, I think you're onto a winner, and I'd be happy to share the profits. :-D

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