January 19, 2011
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaboration and Game Theory. More specifically I’ve been examining and re-examining the Prisoner’s Dilemma in hopes of learning more about how transparency affects collaboration, and I think I may be on to something.
Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behaviour in strategic situations (games). The prisoner’s dilemma is a fundamental problem in game theory and demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in their best interest to do so.
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?