Prisoner’s Dilemma

By Marcus Wilson 20/11/2009

Writing my last post on public transport etiquette prompted me to recall William Poundstone’s excellent book an game theory, ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’.  Poundstone, in a very accessible manner, discusses the ideas behing game theory (a branch of mathematics developed by John Von Neuman), illustrating it terrifyingly with examples from the Cold War.

Deciding whether to get on the first bus, the crowded one that is already late, thus delaying it further, or waiting for the second, that is nearly empty and running ahead of time, is a dilemma. Do the former, and you’ll get to work a little quicker than you would if you did the latter. Do the second, and your journey takes a bit longer, but it is to the benefit of everyone else on the first bus, who aren’t delayed further by your boarding. The choice is yours. Our mathematician friends in Mexico are obviously going to try a publicity campaign for people to do the latter.

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