Death Trap (Game Theory)

Thinking about any scenario that places your loves one(s) in danger is rather morbid but for the sake of exploration we’ll overlook that, still, being in any bad situation one you immediately see the worst result and not the best solution. There are a variety of ways to look at this problem, some really in-depth analyses require some sturdy maths skill others merely ethical or moral stances. The collective name for the understanding this and similar problems is called Game Theory, and it is not, as the name implies, a soft subject.

The problem illustrated above is one I learnt at around 12 y/o, but there is a similar depiction made quite recently. In the recent Batman film, The Dark Knight, The Joker places bombs on 2 ships and gives the detonators to the opposing ship saying either one of you dies or you all die. There are other moments in that film that have an economy behind them and we’ll go into them later.

Mathematical Overview

(No sums or equations here, honest)

All end results can be shown in a table, or matrix, clearly showing a Live/Die for each party/boat in each situation.

Party A
Acts Passive
Party B Acts Die, Die Die, Live
Passive Live, Die Die , Die

This Normal form works for both my problem and the Jokers Ultimatum, there doesn’t seem to be a best action. In a perfect relationship you would both want each other to live and want to save each other but attempting to do so would kill them. If the civilians kill the guilty they become the guilty, the Joker wins but a ferry survives. Which takes us onto an…

Ethical Overview

As with Newtons Third law, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, by pushing the button you are willingly setting yourself up to kill someone, by not acting the responsibility of the outcome is the perpetrator of the situation. So if both parties do nothing they may loose their lives but they can happily know that they didn’t kill each other. This however does not work with a boat load of people, as they don’t have a button each so there a social ramifications such as being on a surviving boat but not wanting to have pushed the button. And of course they know there is a Batman out there so they can wait for him to save them, whereas in the prison cell they do not have that hope.

Philosophical Overview

Either scenario is preposterous, nobody would actually go to these lengths to commit this crime, if you were to actually find yourself in this situation it is most likely fictitious and as such humming a sticking your fingers in your ears is a viable solution until you wake up. As Homer (J. Simpson) would say, if I don’t see it its not happening!

This is just a talk out of the Joker’s Ferry game, there are 2 other obvious ones (at least to me) the 3 second clip were the bank robber asks the Joker if the shotgun is empty, saying yes/no and being wrong/right has some interesting results. And the robbery itself seems like a variant of the Pirate Booty Game

I’ve just explored 3 ways of looking at that situation I’m sure there are a variety of others, feel free to drop a comment below. Lastly I don’t expect that if you were in as dire situation as this you would consider the problem as rationally but I suppose that is the advantage of practising and theoretical discussions.

What Books would you Rebuild Humanity with?

One of my favourite films is the 1960 classic (H.G. Wells’) The Time Machine. A 19th Century Scientist builds a Time Machine and travels forwards in time to see the progress of Humanity. Witnessing the destruction in World War II he travels further eventually seeing the 803rd Century and a Utopian society of gentle humans. But all is not as ideal as it seems.

The end of the film, without giving away any spoilers, he comes back to his present collects 3 books and returns to the future. If you were going to rebuild civilization what 3 books would you take?

3 Laws Unsafe

Most people should be familiar with the box office success I, Robot (2004), it’s 2035 AD, robots are everyday tools and are programmed to live and serve alongside humans. Detective Spooner is called out to investigate the apparent suicide of the scientist that designs robots; Dr. Alfred Lanning. A robot is found in close proximity to the crime scene and Spooner suspects it might be the perpetrator despite robots never having injured a human because of the unbreakable 3 Laws in there Circuits.

Those with a superficial interest in Science Fiction assume that the 3 Laws just ‘break’ because its a movie. This is not the case. Below are the 3 laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Can you see the flaw that lets the movie take place? The laws are in a descending order of importance, so the first law must always be followed, the second if it can, and the third if our orders permit it. So you can ask it to kill itself because the 2nd Law overrides the robots self preservation (3rd) however you can’t ask the robot to shot someone else because it would break the 1st Law.

The reason the robots can kill humans is the 2 letter word ‘or’ in the first Law. Its a logical operator that means one or the other. So if they follow the second part of the 1st Law in an attempt to preserve humanity they can injure humans.

A logical robot would find the first part most important and follow it first. An altruistic robot, one with emotions such as compassion would want no harm to all humans; the greatest good.

This is why the smarter a robot, indeed computers, the harder it will get to control them because there understanding of the laws we give them might surpass ours with dire consequences.

Why you should ignore Cosmetic Problems

So I’m watching the first season of The West Wing and the White House staff are interviewing a young African-American teenager for the position of Personal Aid to the President. Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, is concerned that it will look poor for a ‘young black kid’ to ‘wait’ on the President. Leo McGary, the Chief of Staff says that he has held doors open for the President and considers it an honour, Josh retorts that it’s not the same holding The Presidents overnight bag. They, despite the cosmetic implications realise that it’s not casting (the irony considering it is a television show) and they simply get the right person for the job.

Leo then asks Admiral Percy Fitzwallace (also African-American) if he has a problem with a young black man waiting on The President. He says “are you going to pay him a decent wage?”, “are you going to treat him with respect in the workplace?” Leo replies yes to both and Fitzwallace responds with; “Why the hell should I care? I have some real honest to God battles to fight and I don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.

I don’t normally post without my own conclusion on something but I think the point is demonstrated beautifully and hopefully is self evident.

Freak or Idiot?

Given the choice which would you prefer to be, Freak or Idiot?

Firstly what type of freak? The word means something that is a strange deviation from nature. So freak would be a ball falling upwards which is a deviation from the natural phenomenon known as gravity. The question doesn’t poise a definition of the type of freak we would be so we don’t know and presumably upon making the choice between the options we would find out.

Choosing to be an idiot would mean loosing ones sense of the world and the ability to comprehend reasoning. So using a remote control would be out of the question as you couldn’t understand how it would affect the television. So the simple pleasure of sitting back and watching a television would be out of the question.

For some freakish things, if you so choose, they can be adjusted, they don’t necessarily have to be but if it can then you have that option available to you. As with everything in life a karma must be maintained; “there is no such thing as a free lunch” so it might not be easy.

If you’re an idiot then unfortunately you can’t change that, you can’t learn so whatever you did know or were allowed to remember as an idiot would be the majority of what you would know for the rest of your life. Idiocy is always a permanent thing.

The root consequence is a choice between permanent idiocy with an uncertainty about how much you would remember and freakdom with a complete random chance of anything happening, it could be something as little as 12 fingers or as big as fur all over your body, no eyes, ears and nose or the lack of lungs and thus death.

So it’s a choice between a fixed and random fate. Of course both could be fixed fates if you believe in destiny put for simplicities sake on this particular choice I choose not to believe in it.

With all this in mind which would you rather be, Freak or Idiot?

You’ve already made the choice

Pre-determination implies there is a plan for the Universe, a fixed route to get from the past to the future. In this type of Universe no accidents occur because they were all suposed to happen and although we think we are making choices we’re not, we’re just conforming to the plan.

In The Matrix amongst all the protagonist’s abilities he had the ability of foresight, this gift was only for events within the matrix and its machinery but not the real world. How does this apply to us?

In an enclosed environment if you know everything that effects an object and you know all the objects in an environment then you can predict the outcome. In an imaginary frictionless box you place a ball and give it a nudge the ball will bounce around and keep doing so. You can predict the bounces if you know what angle the ball was nudged at and thus route the path before it happens. Adding another ball just means that it’s more complicated, both paths have to be plot to the same duration and when they bounce the directions calculated. Its harder work but it is possible with enough time and thought.

The Matrix was a realtime occurring environment, so more events were occurring every second, but agents and thus the Matrix itself have limits so if you’ve got a faster processor (such as your brain) then you can run the same events faster and find the outcome sooner. However there are limitations in the Matrix and in the real world.

No-one can see beyond a choice they don’t understand, and I mean no-one.

The Oracle

What The Oracle is saying that you can only have foresight if you know what choices you (and the rest of the matrix) are going to make, if you don’t know then when running the ‘foresight version’ of the Matrix then you’ll reach an impasse and not know anything further. So for someone contending with the person that has the foresight the phrase “you’ve already made the choice, now you have to understand why you’ve made it” is quite scary because they know what you are going to do and why you did before you’ve had the choice present itself and searched all your past experiences for the answer.

Having a plan for the Universe means that it is possible to know what choices people will make before they make them so it is possible for us mortals to see into the future.