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Nash Outlines Game Theory to Audience

By Eun J. Lee


Nobel laureate Dr. John F. Nash outlined economic game theory and his pioneering role in its development last night.

Originally scheduled to be held in 6-120, the organizers moved the lecture to 26-100 to accommodate all the people who came to see the lecture at the last minute. Nash’s presentation was sponsored by the Undergraduate Economics Association.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for MIT students not only to meet Nobel laureates, but also someone who has had such a revolutionary effect on their field,” said Dan Tortorice ’02, UEA Vice-President and event organizer.

Nash is widely credited with the transformation of game theory into a useful modeling tool for economists and mathematicians. His work on the topic began with the publication of his PhD thesis, “Non-Cooperative Games,” in the journal Annals of Mathematics.

Nash spent most of Monday’s lecture outlining this theory from a paper entitled “Agencies and Coalitions, Method for Reduction of Formally Cooperative Games to Formally Non-Cooperative Games.” To illustrate his method in action, Nash included computational research on a particular project of study.

“In effect, the concept allows the game to be transformed into a game that is in a certain sense equivalent and which is considered in the repeated game context that is directly analogous to the repeated game context studied by theoretical biologists studying the possibility of cooperation evolving in the context of a repeated game of ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ form,” Nash said.

In the field of game theory, the strategy behind games such as poker and chess is used to understand how players might behave in real-life economic games such as business competition.

“It’s a major accomplishment because as soon as you have a means for beginning these kinds of computation, then it can be continued [as a model],” Nash said.

Game theory is grounded in the anticipation of one’s opponent’s strategy. The Princeton professor’s ideas enjoy a wide range of uses which extend beyond economics into fields such as military planning and political elections.

“These are very prominent concepts in the property of game theory and it’s important to see which is relevant for modeling given situations,” said Nash.

Nash served as an MIT professor

Nash shared the 1994 Nobel prize for Economic Science with two other pioneers in game theory, John C. Harsanyi of the University of California at Berkeley and Reinhard Selten of the University of Bonn in Germany.

After receiving his PhD in mathematics at Princeton University, Nash came to MIT as a C.L.E. Moore instructor in mathematics in 1951. He became an assistant professor in 1953 and was promoted to associate professor in 1957.

Dr. Nash left the Institute in 1959 and has spent most of the years since at Princeton University, where he has focused on such diverse areas as logic and gravitation.

Audience sits through mishaps

Despite initial audio and visual problems due to the unforeseen change in rooms, about half the audience remained until the end of the lecture.

“It was a lot more technical than I thought it would be, but Nash broke it down so it was still easy to follow,” said Nirupama Rao ’01.

The audience was a mix of students and older intellectuals who were all driven by a curiosity to hear Nash speak of his theories.

“I thought the lecture was pretty interesting,” said Victor W. Brar ’04. “I came because of the revolutionary role of game theory -- it’s a completely different approach to economics.”

“I think overall the event worked out well,” said Tortorice. “It was nice because it was open to the entire MIT community, and anyone who wanted to see it was able to.”