A new computer algorithm can play one of the most popular variants of poker essentially perfectly. Its creators say that it is virtually “incapable of losing against any opponent in a fair game”.
…That means that this particular variant of poker, called heads-up limit hold’em (HULHE), can be considered solved. The algorithm is described in a paper in Science1.
The strategy the authors have computed is so close to perfect “as to render pointless further work on this game”, says Eric Jackson, a computer-poker researcher based in Menlo Park, California.
“I think that it will come as a surprise to experts that a game this big has been solved this soon,” Jackson adds.
…Bowling and colleagues designed their algorithm so that it would learn from experience, getting to its champion-level skills required playing more than 1,500 games. At the beginning, it made its decisions randomly, but then it updated itself by attaching a ‘regret’ value to each decision, depending on how poorly it fared.
This procedure, known as counterfactual regret minimization, has been widely adopted in the Annual Computer Poker Competition, which has run since 2006. But Bowling and colleagues have improved it by allowing the algorithm to re-evaluate decisions considered to be poor in earlier training rounds.
The other crucial innovation was the handling of the vast amounts of information that need to be stored to develop and use the strategy, which is of the order of 262 terabytes. This volume of data demands disk storage, which is slow to access. The researchers figured out a data-compression method that reduces the volume to a more manageable 11 terabytes and which adds only 5% to the computation time from the use of disk storage.
“I think the counterfactual regret algorithm is the major advance,” says computer scientist Jonathan Shapiro at the University of Manchester, UK. “But they have done several other very clever things to make this problem computationally feasible.”
According to forecasts from Match.com and Plenty of Fish, two of the country’s largest dating sites, the single most popular time for online dating — the window when the most people sign up, log on and poke around — will be Jan. 4, from roughly 5 to 8 p.m. Zoosk, another data-focused dating site, backs that estimate up; in 2014, it’s most trafficked time was on the Sunday after New Year’s.
The full article is here, via Ninja Economics. Might it mean that a) online dating is a kind of palliative against holiday depression? Or that online dating is a kind of New Year’s resolution, a willingness to undergo a brutal experience for a supposed potential long-run benefit? Or a bit of both? Personally, I engage in some of my least productive work on Sunday evenings.
Your model, by the way, should not neglect these corollary facts:
Interestingly, this cycle doesn’t just play out on dating sites — in fact, it’s far broader than that. Researchers have also observed a post-holiday spike in searches for porn, for instance, and a 2012 study by Facebook’s data team found that people are far more likely to change their relationship status in January or February than they are at any other time of year. Offline, the holiday season tends to see a jump in both condom sales and conceptions.
Scott Sumner asks a version of that question:
But here’s what I don’t get. If America really is this weak and cowardly, then why can’t ISIS easily defeat us? They could phone in threats against movie theaters just as easily as the North Koreans can. And there must be 100 times as many Hollywood films that offend ISIS sensibilities as there are that offend Kim. Recall that women get stoned to death in ISIS-controlled areas for things like wearing a miniskirt. Then consider Hollywood films, which often show Arab terrorists as villains. So why doesn’t ISIS copy North Korea? Why does ISIS let us insult them? I don’t get it.
There is more from the Scott on the question here. This is hardly my area, but here are a few observations:
1. The United States will permit all kinds of mini-outrages against us, provided they are not seen as precedents. If we were viewed as exploitable at this margin, our reaction, from both the government and private citizens, would be quite different. In the meantime, pretending that North Korea is a fly to the American elephant may be an optimal response/non-response. When Obama told Sony it made a mistake by pulling the film, that is exactly what he was doing, namely minimizing the significance of the event on purpose. He wasn’t trying to scold Sony or even to defend free speech.
2. Often groups such as ISIS are much more offended by what “their own” women do than by what “outsiders” do. They may even welcome the existence of a certain amount of Western and also Hollywood depravity, to aid product differentiation. Additionally, don’t forget that some of the 9-11 terrorists seemed to enjoy strip clubs and the like. Their motivations are not always strictly pious.
3. We don’t have a good understanding of why terrorists don’t attack more than they do. Perhaps terror attacks can be viewed as belonging to two groups: a) the more or less replicable (Sri Lankan and Palestinian suicide bombings), which are allocated by some set of calculating authorities, and b) the “one-off,” which are governed by a kind of multiplicative formula, under which many things have to go the right way for an attack to happen at all. 9-11 is probably an example here, but without a fixed infrastructure for providing training and motivation and coordination, most terrorists aren’t actually that well organized and they can’t pull much off. Read Diego Gambetta on 9-11. Now that U.S. troops are (mostly) out of Iraq, the replicable attacks aren’t there any more either.
4. It remains possible that the U.S. still will retaliate against North Korea, or perhaps already has retaliated in a non-public manner. It is also possible we have let news of such retaliation or pending retaliation leak to ISIS and other groups in some fashion.
And a final point: in the MR comments section Boonton wrote:
I think this illustrates a difference in perception between North Korea and, say, Al Qaeda. If Al Qaeda was offended by some movie (say the last Batman movie which featured some type of Middle Eastern prison that was nonetheless within walking distance of Gotham city), people would be up in arms about all theaters pulling the movie. Yet not so much North Korea, why?
Al Qaeda is recognized as having an actual agenda is is assumed to be a somewhat rational agent. Hence most of us will give credit to the anti-appeasement argument with them. If we pull one movie they will keep making demands.
North Korea, in contrast, is perceived as an irrational state lead by a child-man dictator. In other words, most in the west see it as essentially an entire nation that is literally mentally ill. We are willing to indulge them a bit because we are not quite sure how ill they really are and just like a deranged person may try to stab you over a napkin on the ground, this is the type of state that may start a nuclear war over a Seth Rogan movie.
Is this perception correct? Is North Korea not just mentally ill ‘on the ground’ but also at the top? Is the inner circle populated by cold rationalists cynically exploiting propaganda to control the masses or have they actually drunk the most Kool-Aid of the entire bunch?!
“Both” is a possible answer of course.
Session 16M, Economics and Chess
“Thinking Outside the Game Tree: Game Preparation at Chess World Championship”
Doru Cojoc, Columbia University
“Do Rational Agents Make Rational Decisions? Evidence from Chess Data”
Alexander Matros, University of South Carolina
Irina Murtazashvili, Drexel University
“Human and Computer Preference Divergences at Chess”
Kenneth Regan, University at Buffalo
Tamal Tanu Biswas, University at Buffalo
Jason Zhou, SUNYIT
Carlsen played an imperfect match, by the way, especially in the second half, but won on the grounds of age and stamina. For the next cycle, I see Grischuk as the most likely challenger, as Aronian tends to choke at key moments and Caruana does not yet have a good enough positional understanding of the middle game and end game. Carlsen will hold the title still for some while to come.
The pointer is from Daniel Klein, here is his earlier paper on why don’t government officials seem like villains (pdf).
The rematch starts in November, but it is by no means obvious that the champion Carlsen is favored. Anand is separated from his Indian well-wishers and relatives (which helps him), he has been playing well lately, and he feels he has nothing to lose at this point. It is often easier to win a rematch than to defend a championship.
Carlsen’s play has been listless as of late. Yet he has two factors going for him. First, he is a better player than Anand, a factor which is obviously important, and second he is younger and has better stamina.
Carlsen suffers from having to play in Sochi, which is basically a KGB village with extreme surveillance. Any chess innovation which he speaks to his seconds in his hotel room or leaves on his hard drive will end up being distributed to the camp of his opponent. That also will hurt his morale and make it hard for him to concentrate on the match. Like many others, I was surprised he agreed to play in Sochi in the first place. I think he also suffers from this match coming so quickly after the first. He feels he hasn’t had enough time to enjoy the promised benefits of the world championship, not all of those benefits were delivered, and in a sense the first match still isn’t over but rather has been extended.
Chess often brings surprises, I am forecasting Carlsen to fall behind in the match early on, but successfully defend his title at the end.
I’ve noticed in Hong Kong that exiters are not accorded absolute priority. That is, those entering the elevator can push their way through before the leavers have left, without being considered impolite, unlike in the United States. In part, Hong Kongers are in a hurry, but that does not itself explain the difference in customs. After all, exiters are in a hurry too, so why take away their priority rights? Perhaps we should look again to Coase. If some people who wish to enter are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward. Furthermore, an exiter who is not in a hurry at all can hold back, knowing that someone will rush to fill the void, rather than ending up in the equilibrium of excessive politeness where each defers to the other and all movements are delayed. That is not an equilibrium you see often in downtown Hong Kong.
There is another positive effect from the Hong Kong method. If you will be exiting the elevator, you have to step forward early on and be ready to leave promptly, to avoid being swamped by the new entrants. That means the process of exit takes place more quickly. And so the entrants who are in a hurry actually do get on their way earlier than would otherwise have been the case.
In my latest New York Times column for The Upshot, I look at some evidence on the gender gap. Here is the bad news:
In one set of these experiments, called the dictator game, women were found to be more generous than men. Players were given $10 and allowed but not required to hand out some of it to a hidden and anonymous partner. Women, on average, gave away $1.61 of the $10, whereas men gave away only 82 cents.
In another test, called the ultimatum game, one player received $10 and then decided how much of it to offer to a partner. (Let’s say the first player suggests, “$8 for me, $2 for you.” If the respondent accepts the offer, that’s what each gets. If the respondent is offended by the unequal division or dislikes it for any other reason, he or she may refuse, and then no one gets anything.)
The depressing news was this: Both men and women made lower offers, on average, when the responder was female. Male proposers offered an average of $4.73 to male respondents, but only $4.43 to women. More painful yet was the behavior of female proposers, who, on average, offered $5.13 to men but only $4.31 to women. It seems that women were seen as softies who were willing to settle for less — and the discrimination was worse coming from the women themselves.
I am nonetheless optimistic about longer-term trends, and here is one specific example I give:
As a former chess player, I am struck by the growing achievements of women in this great game — one in which men were once said to have an overwhelming intrinsic advantage. (Among the unproven contentions was that men were better at pattern recognition.) Although women were never barred from touching the chess pieces, strong female players were few in number.
These days, many more women play very well, and the gap between the top men and women in the game is narrowing. The main driver of the change appears to be that more and more women are playing chess, creating a cycle of positive reinforcement that encourages ever more women to excel. We’ve seen a similar dynamic in the workplace, as more women have made great strides in the areas of law, medicine and academia. And this process may spread to other sectors of the economy as well, such as technology industries.
Do read the whole thing.
Here is a new paper from Christine R. Schwartz and Hongyun Han, and here is the key part of the abstract:
…marriages in which wives have the educational advantage were once more likely to dissolve, but this association has disappeared in more recent marriage cohorts. Another key finding is that the relative stability of marriages between educational equals has increased. These results are consistent with a shift away from rigid gender specialization toward more flexible, egalitarian partnerships, and they provide an important counterpoint to claims that progress toward gender equality in heterosexual relationships has stalled.
Thirteen percent of US citizens play the lottery every week. The average household spends around $540 annually on lotteries and poor households spend considerably more than the average. The high demand for lotteries, especially among the poor, has led many to suggest that we use them to promote some other good. Los Angeles, for example, has recently discussed giving voters lottery tickets–a great idea if we want to encourage more voting by uninformed people with a penchant for get-rich-quick schemes. What could go wrong?
A somewhat better idea is to use lotteries to promote saving. Prize linked savings (PLS) accounts offer savers pro-rata lottery tickets based on how much they save. The average return on a PLS account can be the same as on regular account but the interest rate is lowered to make up for the small probability of a big gain. It’s illegal for banks in the United States to offer lotteries but a few credit unions have experimented with PLS accounts and they are used in some 20 other countries around the world.
Does the option of saving in a PLS account increase total savings or does it merely reallocate savings? In a new paper, Atalay, Bakhtiar, Cheung and Slomin run an experiment in which participants allocate a budget to consumption, saving, lottery tickets, and a PLS account. They conclude:
…the introduction of a PLS account indeed increases total savings quite dramatically (on average by 12 percentage points), and that the demand for the PLS account comes from reductions in lottery expenditures and current consumption. We further show that these results are stronger among study participants with the lowest reported savings on the survey.
Thus, PLS accounts appear to be a kind of crafty nudge, a way to trick the get-rich-quick brain module to save more.
If we allow PLS accounts, the poor may save more and in a competitive bank market the return on PLS accounts will trump the lousy returns offered by state lotteries. Win, win. If we deregulate all kinds of lotteries, however, I have little doubt that entrepreneurs will come up with schemes that will easily trump PLS accounts–but without the social benefit of encouraging saving among the poor. As a libertarian, I can live with that but as a political economist I wonder how well we can draw the line between banning gambling and allowing gambling so long as it’s tied to a nice nudge.
Perhaps these results are speculative all around, but I am happy to report them for your consideration:
Another strategy identified by the survey, wearing glasses, appears to be surprisingly effective. Figures released in 2011 by the College of Optometrists, in the U.K., show that 43 percent of the people it surveyed believe glasses make a person look more intelligent.
But you may not need glasses if you’re beautiful. A Czech study found that certain facial features—narrow faces, long noses, and thin chins—correlated with both perceived intelligence and attractiveness. Interestingly, men who were considered smart-looking actually tended to have higher IQs; the same was not true for women.
Other ways to signal intelligence without opening your mouth include walking at the same pace as those around you. Subjects in one study rated a person moving faster or slower than “normal human walking speed” as less competent and intelligent. Speaking of incompetence: don’t drink in public, at least not at work functions. The perceived association between alcohol and stupid behavior is so strong, according to a 2013 study, that merely holding a beer makes you appear dumber.
How you write matters, too—particularly how you write your name. Middle initials apparently lend a person a certain cachet. Participants in a study published this year rated writing samples more favorably when the author’s name included a middle initial; they also presumed people with middle initials to be of higher social status than their uninitialed peers. Typing your initial in the Comic Sans font, though, could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent.
The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.
David Brooks writes:
But when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell, the military leaders cracked down. They sentenced hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leadership class to death. They also closed roughly 95 percent of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, where the Brotherhood’s offshoot, Hamas, had gained power.
As intended, the Egyptian move was economically devastating to Hamas. Hamas derived 40 percent of its tax revenue from tariffs on goods that flowed through those tunnels. One economist estimated the economic losses at $460 million a year, nearly a fifth of the Gazan G.D.P.
Hamas needed to end that blockade, but it couldn’t strike Egypt, so it struck Israel. If Hamas could emerge as the heroic fighter in a death match against the Jewish state, if Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade. Civilian casualties were part of the point. When Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, dismissed a plea for a cease-fire, he asked a rhetorical question, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?”
The eminent Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff summarized the strategy in The Times of Israel, “Make no mistake, Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel. But Hamas is firing rockets at Tel Aviv and sending terrorists through tunnels into southern Israel while aiming, in essence, at Cairo.”
The full column is here.
These were the results:
1. People responded to first messages 44% more often.
2. “conversations went deeper”
3. Contact details were exchanged more quickly.
When the photos were restored at 4PM, 2,200 people were in the middle of conversations that had started “blind”. Those conversations melted away.
That said, the people who actually used the “Blind Date App” if anything seemed slightly happier with their dates. The full report from OKCupid is here. Yet here is the combined chart drawn from when people score “looks” and “personality” separately.
By the way, I would never try to match you up with a book I fear you may not like, at least not without telling you or otherwise signaling that incompatibility in advance.
Israel’s major problem is that circumstances always change. Predicting the military capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds in 50 years is difficult. Most likely, they will not be weaker than they are today, and a strong argument can be made that at least several of their constituents will be stronger. If in 50 years some or all assume a hostile posture against Israel, Israel will be in trouble.
Time is not on Israel’s side. At some point, something will likely happen to weaken its position, while it is unlikely that anything will happen to strengthen its position. That normally would be an argument for entering negotiations, but the Palestinians will not negotiate a deal that would leave them weak and divided, and any deal that Israel could live with would do just that.
What we are seeing in Gaza is merely housekeeping, that is, each side trying to maintain its position. The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can. But nothing lasts forever, and over time, the relative strength of Israel will decline. Meanwhile, the relative strength of the Palestinians may increase, though this isn’t certain.
Looking at the relative risks, making a high-risk deal with the Palestinians would seem prudent in the long run. But nations do not make decisions on such abstract calculations. Israel will bet on its ability to stay strong. From a political standpoint, it has no choice. The Palestinians will bet on the long game. They have no choice. And in the meantime, blood will periodically flow.
Here is one way to boost the employment to population ratio, two birds with one stone you might say:
Feng’s 23 year-old son, “Xiao Feng” (小冯) started playing video games in high school. Through his years of playing various online games, he supposedly thought himself a master of Chinese online role playing games. According to his father, Xiao Feng had good grades in school, so they allowed him to play games; but when he couldn’t land a job they started looking into things. He, however, says he simply couldn’t find any work that he liked. Feng was annoyed that his son couldn’t even tough it out for three months at a software development company.
Unhappy with his son not finding a job, Feng decided to hire players in his son’s favorite online games to hunt down Xiao Feng. It is unknown where or how Feng found the in-game assassins—every one of the players he hired were stronger and higher leveled than Xiao Feng. Feng’s idea was that his son would get bored of playing games if he was killed every time he logged on, and that he would start putting more effort into getting a job.
The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Smiddy.