Students took a technical look at the world on the first day of classes yesterday, as those studying Economics got to grips with the key tenets of market economics, and those in Politics and International Relations were introduced to the concept of ‘game theory’.
Game theory was first considered in the modern context by John von Neumann, who in 1928 put forward the mathematical concept of the zero-sum game―a situation in which only one ‘player’ can benefit, at the equal expense of the others. Game theory has since established itself in the economic and political fields, with software being developed to model the effects of particular political decisions (North Korea testing a nuclear bomb, for example). Some academics are even working on solving intractable problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through game theory software: negotiators would communicate their bargaining positions with an impartial computer, which would then use the information to propose a compromise.
In the class itself, students were asked to consider the famous ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’, which runs as follows:
Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They hope to get both sentenced to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent.
If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison
If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)
If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge).
Game theoretical analysis dictates that two rational individuals in this situation will both opt to betray each other, since this course of action offers the greatest reward. However, betrayal by both prisoners results in more prison time in total than if they were to keep silent. Interestingly, when this scenario has been put into practice, humans have shown a significant tendency towards cooperative behaviour, against the predictions of the model.
Students engaged in a competitive (albeit rather less high-stakes) game themselves yesterday evening, as they took on their classmates in teams in the ORA Quiz. Students plundered the memory banks to disburse answers on current affairs, science and nature, sport, and history― plus a special round in which students guessed which baby photo belonged to which Counsellor. With brains thoroughly warmed up for the fortnight’s learning ahead, students retired to bed to rest and repair.