Thursday, August 05, 2004

Game Theory meets Terrorism

Under some gentle prodding (read: death threats) from Mr. Youngberg, this is my first post in a long while. I thought I'd start it off with some more of Glenwatch, where David and I comment on everything Glen Whitman says.

This post by Glen tries to analyze the recent terror alerts in New York, etc. in game theory terms. A few commenters have beaten me to the suggestion that any game of feint and counter-feint can be fundamentally reduced to the Sicilian-Westley game of The Princess Bride. For any of you unaware of it, the protagonist, Westley, offers the Sicilian a game: he will fill two glasses with wine and poison one. The Sicilian will choose one cup and drink from it, and Westley the other. The loser will die, and the winner will get the girl.

The Sicilian accepts, and spends the rest of the scene contemplating out loud every possible depth and layer of the choice of the cup. Finally, he chooses a cup, and drinks with confidence. He promptly dies, and Westley reveals that it was a trick: both cups were poisoned, and Westley was immune to that particular poison.

What's the lesson? Sometimes there is a choice C that the other player has not let you know about. So I offer a different suggestion about the terrorist alerts. The terrorists already did what they wanted to do: get the government in a public guessing game about which feint or counter-feint will be used. There's no need to actually act further than that, especially with how public this discussion has been.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Not that it makes much difference on your analysis of raising the terror alert, but if you didn't know already (and even if you did) it is interesting to know that New York has never been off of the 'elevated' terror alert status.