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The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition Revised Edition
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What Robert Axelrod describes in this book is a novel round-robin tournament (actually two such tournaments) in which various game-theoretic strategies were pitted against one another in the game known as the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. Each strategy was scored, not according to how many times it "beat" its "opponent," but according to how many points it accumulated for itself. The surprising result: a strategy dubbed TIT FOR TAT, submitted by Anatol Rapaport, cleaned everybody's clocks in both tournaments.
Why was this surprising? First, because TIT FOR TAT was such a simple strategy. It didn't try to figure out what its "opponent" was going to do, or even keep much track of what its "opponent" had _already_ done. All it did was cooperate on the first move, and thereafter do whatever its "opponent" had done on the previous move. And second, because this strategy can _never_ do better than its "opponent" in any single game; the best result it could achieve, in terms of comparison with the other player, is a tie.
So it was odd that such a simple strategy, one that went up against all sorts of sophisticated strategies that spent a lot of time trying to dope out what their "opponents" were up to, should do so much better than all the "clever" strategies. And it was also odd that a strategy that could never, ever "beat" its "opponent" should nevertheless do so much better _overall_ than any other strategy.Read more ›
The experimental support for these claims comes from a series of contests. Dozens of authors provided computer programs to play in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma - a simple model, but one that describes a surprising number of real-world phenomena. Most importantly, it's a testable model. It almost puts a common aspect of social interaction into a test tube. What came out of that test tube was startling in its clarity and simplicity.
The book is very readable. Axelrod segregates the mathematical and non-mathematical discussions with some care. Math-free readers see the whole set of experiments and conclusions, clearly explained, and need to skip only a few paragraphs during the main discussion. The last few chapters reward math-positive readers with additional precision and rigor. Even then, the math is accessible to someone with good high-school algebra skills.
Axelrod's discussion truly timeless, except for references to the Cold War as current events. I can accept that. Even though that un-war is mostly over, it's a critical part of modern history and it still informs current policy. Any insight into that madness helps, and Axelrod is very helpful.
This book stands above any one category. It's one of very few that I recommend to the bookshelves of every educated person.
It is clear that the best solution for both of them is cooperation. On the other hand, each individual is also tempted to maximize his own individual benefit. And each of them benefits most if he decides to defect, which in turn brings the worst possible outcome for both (six years total). So one-shot Prisonner's Dilemma rarely leads to cooperation. Now, what if the very two chaps are later arrested again? Will they cooperate when given another chance? Or if they know they will face the same situation every five years? Professor Axelrod tested the iterated Prisonner's Dilemma with computer programs, and investigated under which circumstances cooperation can emerge.
The book is nicely scattered with fragments of game theory and examples from world politics. All in all, as Richard Dawkins has commented in the foreword to its British edition, in breathes with optimism, and is a delight to read. Still, it has one problem, and actually shares it with Dawkins: the book reaches its climax right at the beginning. The book starts with a strong and very convincing idea, but later fails to keep the same pace of dynamic. The idea is splendid, but the structure of the book could be enhanced.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My son wanted me to buy this for his classes. I ended up reading it. What a delight.
I almost never read novels. For me a book needs to tickle my brain. Read more
I haven't finished reading this book yet. The book is easy to read and handy. Will update my review when I finish reading it.Published 3 months ago by VJ
Purchased it to use as a class textbook, one of the few texts for a class I didn't finish. Absolutely bored to tears. Read morePublished 19 months ago by oregon brit
The basic thesis is not complicated: cooperation can emerge among a group of egotists without any appeal to a central authority or to altruism. Read morePublished on February 6, 2014 by Carl A. Huffman