RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!

Deron Stewart (
Fri, 19 Mar 1999 22:42:03 -0800

Prof. Tim wrote:
>Could someone explain in simple terms the RAND thingy?

Since I've dusted off Poundstone's _The Prisoner's Dilemma_ (hereinafter refered to as "The Book") I might as well keep quoting from it until I've quoted it in its entirety or I'm thrown in jail for copyright infringement, whichever comes first...(btw, it's a great book, read it!)

In a nutshell RAND was (is?) a think tank set up at Douglas Aircraft in 1945 with Air Force money with the intent of attracting top notch minds to think about military strategy in the newly emerged nuclear age.

It got spun off in 1948 as a nonprofit organization. It was semi-covert, well funded, and had no expectations put on it, with the ability to pick and refuse projects at will regardless of practical considerations.

It gained fame and infamy as the organization that "thinks about the unthinkable" -- strategic and tactical thinking about nuclear war.

Von Neumann and others developed much of the fundamentals of game theory at the RAND Corporation. In particular, Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher discovered a "game" in 1950 which would later be christened "The Prisoner's Dilemma" by Albert Tucker.

This game was seen as a model for the nuclear standoff between the US and the USSR. The premise is that each nation is capable of destroying the other nation if they launch their missiles first and the other nation will be unable to respond. (Hence all the later emphasis on "second strike" capabilities...)

There is a two-fold "temptation" to be the first to launch the missles: To conquer the enemy (if that is a goal), but more importantly to prevent the enemy from launching missles against oneself. Even if both sides would prefer peace to war there is a vicious circle of paranoia where both sides are driven to be the first to launch out of the fear that the other side will launch...(and that fear is increasingly justified as the self-fulfilling prophecy unfolds!)


To many, the RAND Corporation epitomizes modern Machiavellianism. Both