Subject: Prisoner's Dilemma
From: "Steven D Ourada" <sourada@iastate.edu>
Date: Thu, 04 Feb 93 12:17:54 CST


Russ mentioned the Prisoner's Dilemma, and it reminded me of something
I wanted to bring up...

Just so I don't leave anyone out who doesn't know what the Prisoner's
Dilemma is, I'll give a brief recap (of my possibly fractured variation of
it, at least):

Suppose two people have been arrested for a crime that they were accused
of committing together. A deal is made to each person
that if they don't testify against the other, they will go
to prison for 3 years. If they do testify against the other,
they will go to prison for 2 years. If they are testified against by the
other, though, they will go to prison for 4 years. 

Then they are both asked if they want to testify against the other or not,
and are allowed to hear the other's decision and change their minds.

So if we look at a little device called a game matrix, we get this:

                           Person 2
                     Testify      Don't
                   +---------------------+
Person 1   Testify |  4,4     |   2,4    |   
             Don't |  4,2     |   3,3    |
                   +---------------------+


This shows how many years each person gets based on the two decisions.



Most people (at least in my experience)
would choose to testify against the other person. This reduces their 
sentence from 3 to 2 years during the microsecond it takes for the other
person to decide to testify against them, but they both end up with 4 years.
If they would have cooperated, they would have both ended up with 3 years.
So they both lose because they were greedy in the short run and didn't think
about the long run.


Now to relate this to my point: this is very similar to the way people
react to free software. If people worked together on free software, the
software environment would be much better in the long run. But if they
look for short run profits, they end up competing against each other 
(which consumes extra resources for no gain), and end up 'reinventing
the wheel' (which also consumes extra resources for no gain). So they
both lose.

(I admit that this isn't quite the prisoner's dilemma, but it's the same
spirit).


So one problem facing FSB's is that most people work on the greedy side
of the game matrix, when in fact everyone would gain if they worked on
the cooperative side. The solution to this problem is not in sight, either.
Under a capitalist system, it's expected that everyone will work on the
greedy side. That's probably the reason that free software proponents are
often identified with socialists...


Well, this article took way to many words to say what I wanted to... Hopefully
it will at least provoke thought and discussion.


                     Later,
                       Steven