Towards equilibria-breaking methods

by ryan_b 1 min read29th Jan 20193 comments


All of this is vague intuition.

Much has been said about the problems of Nash equilibria. I've been wondering about how to quantify these sorts of problems. From Moloch's Toolbox:

3.  Systems that are broken in multiple places so that no one actor can make them better, even though, in principle, some magically coordinated action could move to a new stable state.

My animating thought is that information and incentives aren't evenly distributed, and further there is an important time dimension to the problem. I expect it should be possible to temporarily disrupt any given equilibrium. From disruption, a better equilibrium could be reached. Alternatively, maybe it is possible to go directly to the better equilibrium.

  • We should be able to get knowledge of the actors.
  • Information, which is to say beliefs-about-the-current-equilibrium, is not perfect or even among them. How imperfect and how uneven?
  • With knowledge of the actors, we should be able to get a distribution of their incentives.
  • Now we know how many actors, and their incentives, and their information. With this knowledge, we should be able to determine how big an incentive we need to offer in order to shift them into a target equilibrium.
  • If we want it to be a new equilibrium, we will need to affect enough actors to make it fairly stable. How many actors will we need, a la the hundredth monkey effect?
  • It is probably important to be able to tailor incentives to actors.
  • My intuition for the threshold is that the weaker the belief in the current equilibrium, the less incentive will be required to shift them. So the target is something like (current incentives from equilibrium + incentive to overcome belief).

I think of this like surveying a rock face for blasting. Once we identify the lowest-dynamite method, anyone else with enough dynamite can come along and detonate.

My default assumption is that this will take the traditional form of getting a lot of capital and using that to directly or indirectly provide these incentives. Under this assumption there needs to be a reason for that capital to be available, which is to say a profit; maybe this is realizable through market operations directly. Alternatively this could be the vehicle for a startup's pitch; it seems like this process would qualify as superlative market research.

However, it does occur to me that actors might be more like individuals who work in key positions, rather than entire firms. If that is the case I expect the belief-disparities to be even higher than they would be for firms, and the cost of shifting them probably smaller.

Near as I can tell, no one has really taken a startup-pitch-worth of effort to describe an attempt at shifting an equilibrium, especially not in the sense that we talk about them.