There's something eerie about bots that teach themselves to cheat

One of the holy grails of computer science is unsupervised machine learning, where you tell an algorithm what goal you want it to attain, and give it some data to practice on, and the algorithm uses statistics to invent surprising ways of solving your problem. Read the rest

Collaborating in Fortnite

Fortnite is popular for tons of reasons, but chief among it is the "battle royale" style of combat -- 100 random players dropped on an island, foraging for defenses and weapons, and killing each other until only one is left standing. There's no in-game chat, so you have to assume that anyone you encounter is a threat. In such a situation, it's necessarily dog-eat-dog, yes?

Nope. As Robin Sloan -- one of my fave writers and thinkers -- discovered, it's also possible to hack a form of cooperation.

It works like this: Sloan unlocked an upgrade that lets you display a "heart" icon above your head. So he tried using it as a single-bit mode of game-theoretical communication. When he was dropped into the game, upon encountering another player, he'd refrain from shooting -- and instead toss up the "heart" icon.

At first, it didn't work. The other player kept on killing him anyway. Until ...

Then, one night, it worked. And, in many games since, it’s worked again. Mostly I get blasted, but sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, the possibilities bloom. Sometimes, after we face off and stand down, the other player and I go our separate ways. More frequently, we stick together. I’ve crossed half the map with impromptu allies.

When it works, it is usually because I have a weapon and my potential ally doesn’t. When (shockingly) I do not blast them and (even more shockingly) do not pull a bait and switch, a real human connection is established, on a channel deeper than any afforded by the interface.

Read the rest

Governing a decentralized internet without votes

When we think of democracy, we generally think of voting: the people are polled, the people decide. But voting is zero-sum: it has winners and losers. There are other models of governance that can make claim to democratic legitimacy that produce wins for everyone. Read the rest

Thinking in Bets: a poker-master's Jedi mind-trick for being less wrong

Annie Duke dropped out of a PhD in cognitive psychology to become a professional poker player; now she runs a nonprofit devoted to improving decision quality by merging the practical cognitive tools of the world's greatest poker players with the leading edge of cognitive psychology, a method she describes in an excellent and charming new book called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts.

One weird trick to end gerrymandering: cake-cutting game theory

You probably know the “you cut, I choose” method to split a cake between two people who want as much for themselves as possible: one person cuts the cake into two pieces and the other person gets to choose first. Now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have applied cake-cutting game theory to the establishment of electoral districts.

From 3 Quarks Daily:

In American politics, however, cutting states into electoral districts doesn’t have a similarly fair method. The political party in charge often decides where the electoral lines are drawn and does so in such a way to gain an advantage – a process called gerrymandering.

But now, Ariel Procaccia, Wesley Pegden, and Dingli Yu at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a way to extend the cake cutting technique to electoral redistricting to make the system a lot fairer.

“What we think is exciting about this is that it leverages the competition of the two parties. They can both act in their own self-interest and still result in an outcome that is mathematically fair,” says Procaccia.

Does something so fair stand a chance in politics?

Photo credit: Steven Nass / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) Read the rest

Fun interactive game theory simulator shows how trust and mistrust evolve

This simulation, called The Evolution of Trust starts with a variation of the prisoners' dilemma. You can choose to put a coin into a slot. Another person has the same choice on a different machine. You can't communicate with the other person. The only thing you know is this: if the other person put a coin in their slot, you will receive 3 coins. And if you put a coin in your slot, the other person will get 3 coins. What's the best strategy?

Case 1: other person inserts coin. If you put a coin in the slot, you will have a net gain of 2 coins. If you don't put a coin in the slot you will gain 3 coins. So the best thing to do is not put a coin in the slot.

Case 2: other person doesn't insert coin. If you put a coin in the slot, you will have a net loss of 1 coin. If you don't put a coin in the slot you lose nothing. So the best thing to do is not put a coin in the slot.

In either case, it's to your advantage not to put a coin in the slot. But what happens when you play several rounds of the game with the same person? Are there better strategies? Read the rest

Game theory: pedestrians versus autonomous vehicles

Any well-designed self-driving car will be at pains to avoid killing people, if only to prevent paperwork delays when they mow someone down. Read the rest

Google: Chrome will no longer trust Symantec certificates, 30% of the web will need to switch Certificate Authorities

In 2012, Google rolled out Certificate Transparency, a clever system to spot corrupt "Certificate Authorities," the entities who hand out the cryptographic certificates that secure the web. If Certificate Authorities fail to do their jobs, they put the entire electronic realm in danger -- bad certificates could allow anything from eavesdropping on financial transactions to spoofing industrial control systems into accepting malicious software updates. Read the rest

A "travel mode" for social media - after all, you don't take all your other stuff with you on the road

As the US government ramps up its insistence that visitors (and US citizens) unlock their devices and provide their social media accounts, the solution have run the gamut from extreme technological caution, abandoning mobile devices while traveling, or asking the government to rethink its policy. But Maciej Cegłowski has another solution: a "travel mode" for our social media accounts. Read the rest

UK cops beat phone encryption by "mugging" suspect after he unlocked his phone

Detectives from Scotland Yard's cybercrime unit decided the easiest way to get around their suspect's careful use of full-disk encryption and strong passphrases on his Iphone was to trail him until he made a call, then "mug" him by snatching his phone and then tasking an officer to continuously swipe at the screen to keep it from going to sleep, which would reactivate the disk encryption. Read the rest

Youtube's new "offline first" product for India treats telcos as damage and routes around them

Yesterday, Google announced "Youtube Go," an "offline first" version of the popular video service designed for the Indian market where internet coverage is intermittent, provided by monopolistic carriers that have a history of network discrimination, and where people have a wide variety of devices, including very low-powered ones. Read the rest

A catalog of weird-ass corners of game theory research

Game theory is the place where politics, economics, psychology and math meet, and it offers the seductive promise of being able to quantify empirically optimal outcomes from thorny problems ranging from whether to go to war to how to split the tab at a restaurant. Read the rest

Supreme Court ruling is a blow to copyright trolling business-model

In 2013, the Supreme Court heard Kirtsaeng, a copyright case brought by the publisher Wiley, who argued that legal books became illegal when brought into America, because their copyright licenses were nation-specific. Read the rest

Using distributed code-signatures to make it much harder to order secret backdoors

Cothority is a new software project that uses "multi-party cryptographic signatures" to make it infinitely harder for governments to order companies to ship secret, targeted backdoors to their products as innocuous-looking software updates. Read the rest

Chimps beat humans at game theory

In Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions, a paper in Nature by Colin Camerer and colleagues, researchers document the astounding performance of chimpanzees in classic game-theory experiments -- a performance that's substantially superior to humans who play the same games: Read the rest

On anachronism in literary analysis

Jane Austen was not a game theorist. Read the rest

Strategies for the future: accuracy vs. resilience vs. denial

Seth Godin's daily thoughts are always provocative and thoughtful, but today's is a particularly timely and apt one for the new year. Godin describes three ways of coping with the future: Accuracy (correctly guessing what will happen); Resilience (admitting you can't make accurate predictions, so preparing to weather a variety of storms); and "Denial" (pretending nothing will change and getting clobbered as a result). I'm shooting for "Resilient" myself, but if I'm brutally honest, I have to admit that I have moments where I assume that I can be Accurate and where I'm too tired to do anything except Deny. Read the rest

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