Lecture, TED Video
The basis of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's TED Talk is to apply the game theory approach to the question: What is Iran likely to do in the next couple years? In order to attempt to predict complex questions such as this, he insists that we (analysts) science instead of continuing to rely on "seat-of-the-pants wisdom". This type of analysis and its resulting prediction can be used in most types of complex negotiations and conflicts, or any situation involving coercion. It has applications in business mergers, environmental policy, education, litigation, politics, etc.
Game theory is a branch of mathematics. It makes three key assumptions about people:
- People seek what is best for them ("rationally self-interested)
- People have a set system of beliefs and values
- People face limitations.
The first step is to consider who the people are who influence a rational person into believing that something (a change in policy, a position, belief, etc.) is in their own best interests. Presidents, for example, surround themselves with advisers, who in turn surround themselves with their own advisers, creating a pyramid of influence. Since many people go into the process of shaping a decision, we must pay attention to all of the actors.
At first glance, this may seem like a relatively simple task, considering the small number of cabinet-level advisers privy to the president. However, using simple math factorials, we see there are 120 interaction linkages between just one person and four of her advisers.
At this point, there are several main things that one needs to know in order to conduct this analysis:
- Who are the players that have a stake in the outcome?
- What do they say they want?
- How focused are they on the problem at hand?
- How much influence do they have on the decision maker; how much clout?
History is not relevant to this type of analysis. The computer does not factor for history and past actions (history is of little importance to de Mesquita, who refers to the Westerfield publication from Yale University Press that cites a declassified CIA study indicating that 90% of the time models were right even when the experts were not).
In applying the method to the question of Iran, de Mesquita focused the analysis on making 3 predictions:
- What is Iran likely to do about nuclear weapons?
- What is in store for the theocratic regime?
- What does the future look like for Ahmadinejad?