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.

Film Review: The Man from Earth

Before Star Wars made the dominant setting of pop culture Science Fiction in-space there were other stories that proposed the big “What if?” to a scientific reality and explored the repercussions of changing it. Older films didn’t have the ability to make billions of polygons dance on screen so they had to use plot and intrigue to grip an audiences attention, the ones that did survive in general knowledge to this day.

The film starts with a tenure professor’s going away party, the intention being to make final farewells to his friends of the last ten years. The last remnants of his packing that are on show and spark questions that lead to the idea that he proposes to the group: “What if a man, from the Upper Palaeolithic survived until the present day?” The academics and guests proceed to follow the hypothesis through conversation and enquiry.

Despite only the briefest of movements on the porch the stage is the hosts lounge with the story progressing purely through the parties discussions. The dialogue grips your attention so much that you easily imagine entire realms of possibilities about when and what the ‘caveman’ experienced.

One idea presented is of the “all knowing immortal”; a 14,000 year old would only be able to learn upto the edge of published knowledge on a particular subject, the noosphere grows too fast for anyone able to keep up. As such his current preoccupation’s information would be current but the Literature Doctorate from a century ago would be mostly redundant.

Same goes for experiences, a singular viewpoint of his nearest 100 metres doesn’t allow for a great perspective of what the world was doing at any one moment. You might be able to relay key events if you’re part of them but anything important enough to be of note indirectly puts attention on you, something that could result in your secrets discovery. Such a lapse could have dire consequences since as an ageless prisoner you would be trapped in your own body with escape as your only hope whereas a mortals death or escape could be their release.

This is one of those rare films (and by proxy the book ) that deserves to be remembered for its examination of long life, something that although has been done before it is done in a way and to a greater extent that the Highlander cinema never did. A rarity with great plot writing has becoming so scarce in the mainstream.

If you enjoyed what they could squeeze into this 108 minute film then I suggest checking out the book by Jerome Bixby of the same name.

Rating: 92%

Remembering the Future

At a young age you imagine what it’ll be like when you grow up, whether you’re going to be an actor(ess), Fireman or Space Cowboy. You create an entire life in the blink of an eye, you’ve streamlined out all the boring preparations to the fun bit at the end, the goal. Unfortunately not all of these daydreams can come true, for whatever reason you get detoured and things change, for some people its major, others’ practically unnoticeable.

To believe that you could’ve achieved your dream if it weren’t for certain obstacles is easy, optimists would say that if you really apply yourself you can do anything, but some obstacles truly are unavoidable, not in the sense of fate or destiny but simply uncontrollable random events.

For those that didn’t get exactly what they dreamt, nor are happy with the outcome there is a quote that you’ll appreciate:

The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly one you can never have.

Søren Kierkegaard

I never had a dream of becoming anything particular, I had one of those aptitude tests and I remember the top two results to this day 1) Actor, 2) Naval Architect. I suppose a graphic designer is a good blend between them, the structure and function of architecture with the character and creativity of a Thespian. I’m fairly happy with what I do, my only regret, the future that I remember is knowing when I was younger what I would enjoy design and geared myself towards it sooner rather than playing catchup essentially being further along with my life than I am. However the slow road has its advantages…..

So even though your future never happened the fact that it could is a great source of melancholy, but still trying for it is a great source of hope. And any source of hope is a good thing, even if it comes from sadness.

What futures do you remember?

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.

Universe and You

There are 2 types of Universe we can exist in, one where we only think we are making choices and one were we are actually making choices. The one where choice is an illusion means that there could be a map or plan to the Universe, the other anything that could happen might. If the Universe has a plan then we are obviously not privy to it, if anything can happen then what are the consequences?

A Plain Past, Present, Future Timeline
A simple timeline with us in the middle in the present.

From our perspective every action or choice will spawn a different universe, over the space of a few seconds the changes will be negligible, but over say 100 years they could be huge, for instance if a regiment of WWII soldiers went left instead of right perhaps we might have lost the war and be in German occupied Britain.

This would mean from this second onwards the timeline would look like this:

A Timeline with the line splitting infinitely from present to future
The choices be make mean that the future is no set, "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves

However if someone looks back from the future then the present looks just like our past. The reason is only 1 of the paths diverging from our present ends in the future when the observer is from. So ‘if’ time travel is possible then the future boy in the present could only get back to the future where he came from if everything happens just as it did for his past.

A Timeline with a route of possibilities from present to future
With there being so many possible futures it can be hard to get back to the one you originated from.

In a pre-determined Universe no matter when you go you can always get back when you came from. Thus it is a much simpler Universe to live in however since when has the Universe been simple?

We’ll be exploring a variety of problems based on these premises in some upcoming blog posts.