Schelling Games: The Art of Coordination


Let’s say that you and a friend are touring New York City together and end up separated, with no way to communicate between each other? Where do you meet? When?

Popular culture has focused on the analysis of of game theoretical components of competition, wondering how one individual may gain advantage over another, but little consideration is given to how individuals coordinate actions. (While the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma does have components of cooperation, in the end, it’s really about preventing the other from taking advantage of you.)

Instead, we’ll be looking at the area of game theory explored by Thomas Schelling which looks at how individuals cooperate with minimal amounts of information.

A dolphin, close-up, in-profile, with its head out of the water and mouth open.


In a recent piece of news, a dolphin distressed by a fish-hook sought out human divers to provide assistance. This, while heartwarming, has several distinct levels of astounding attached to it:

How did the dolphin know to ask people for help? This dolphin likely has very little personal history in receiving help from humans, and while we’re entirely capable of giving aid, how can it know that? This goes way beyond conditioning into actual intelligent action. The dolphin was able to actively request help from strangers.

How did the dolphin predict that they would even consider to help? The dolphin, somehow knowing that humans might be able to help it, had to have some sense of whether or not they would. This suggests, in my understanding, that the dolphin had a sense of not only its own pain, but the potential empathy that the divers might have towards it.

In short, what is remarkable about this case is that we have a reasonable example of a dolphin showing enough empathic recognition to identify the divers as significantly similar to itself, but how could it possibly do that?

Swarming and Trading Algorithms

My friend, Mel White, was kind enough to take on a question that has been buzzing around in my head for awhile, particularly after the Bio-Inspired Swarms panel at Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual conference (Mike Goodrich’s visualizations were amazing). While my question and Mel’s analysis largely boils down to a small thought experiment about resiliency, it should be of interest.

More after the jump.