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Post details: Prisoner's Oily Dilemma

Prisoner's Oily Dilemma

Prisoner's Dilemma is a classical example in Game Theory (originally proposed by by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950s) which demonstrates why people might sometimes choose not to cooperate although doing so appears to be in their best interest.

The game involves two prisoners, lets call them Joe and Jim, accused of some poorly evidenced crime. They are being interrogated separately and the police - in order to elicit admission of guilt - presents them with a simple choice: either deny all charges (cooperate with each other) or confess to the crime (effectively betraying your partner). The resulting 4 possibilities come with the following sentences:

Joe confesses, Jim denies: Joe walks free, Jim gets 1 year
Joe denies, Jim confesses: Joe gets 1 year, Jim walks free
they both deny: they both get 1 month
they both confess: they both get 5 months

Now ponder what you would do. Would you choose your own selfish interest for the off chance that your partner in crime has character and won't rat you out in which case you walk free and your buddy does some hard time, or would you cooperate with your fellow culprit, hoping he does the same and you both end up with a mild sentence? Note that although mutual cooperation is clearly the way to go (in terms of the overall sentence sum), many a low life would go for the riskier option even though it may not pan out.

Now let's switch focus to the whole planet.

Due to the explosive growth, humanity found itself in a similar position at the onset of this millennium. We have a dwindling supply of oil and it's up to us how we'll manage it. It is a known fact that wars waste more resources than peaceful activity. Military vehicles are not known for their great gas mileage. That puts us Earthlings in a long term dilemma similar to the one described above. Either we will cooperate with each other, put our disagreements on hold and try to make the best use of whichever oil we still have left. Or we will go into wars, wasting the crude reserves at much higher speed, hoping against hope that such wars will leave us with a slightly larger portion than would be our fair share. But - much like with prisoners above - if we ALL choose this destructive strategy, we will all end up with a much harsher sentence at the end. When the wars are done and over, we may realize that all that oil we fought over so hard is simply gone. Mindlessly wasted in the carburetors of our beloved tank divisions.

It will be interesting to see which way the humanity chooses. Judging by the intensity of sabre rattling in the Middle East, it will be a close call.

May wisdom prevail.


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