Science and Technology Looking for the Best Strategy? Ask a Chimp By CYNTHIA ELLER Published on Thursday, June 5, 2014 | 11:17 am More Cool Stuff EVENTS & ENTERTAINMENT | FOOD & DRINK | THE ARTS | REAL ESTATE | HOME & GARDEN | WELLNESS | SOCIAL SCENE | GETAWAYS | PARENTS & KIDS First Heatwave Expected Next Week Top of the News Colin F. Camerer, Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics. Photo courtesy Caltech.eduIf you’re trying to outwit the competition, it might be better to have been born a chimpanzee, according to a study by researchers at Caltech, which found that chimps at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute consistently outperform humans in simple contests drawn from game theory.The study, led by Colin Camerer, Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics, and appearing on June 5 in the online publication Scientific Reports, involved a simple game of hide-and-seek that researchers call the Inspection Game. In the game, two players (either a pair of chimps or a pair of humans) are set up back to back, each facing a computer screen. To start the game, each player pushes a circle on the monitor and then selects one of two blue boxes on the left or right side of the screen. After both players have chosen left or right, the computer shows each player her opponent’s choice. This continues through 200 iterations per game. The goal of the players in the “hiding” roleâ€”the “mismatchers”â€”is to choose the opposite of their opponent’s selection. Players in the “seeking” roleâ€”the “matchers”â€”win if they make the same choices as their opponent. Winning players receive a reward: a chunk of apple for the chimps or a small coin for the humans. If players are to win repeatedly, they have to accurately predict what their opponent will do next, anticipating their strategy.The game, though simple, replicates a situation that is common in the everyday lives of both chimps and humans. Study coauthor Peter Bossaerts, a visiting associate in finance at Caltech, gives an example from human life: an employee who wants to work only when her employer is watching and prefers to play video games when unobserved. To better conceal her secret video game obsession, the employee must learn the patterns of the employer’s behaviorâ€”when they might or might not be around to check up on the worker. Employers who suspect their employees are up to no good, however, need to be unpredictable, popping in randomly to see what the staff is doing on company time.The Inspection Game not only models such situations, it also provides methods to quantify behavioral choices. “The nice thing about the game theory used in this study is that it allows you to boil down all of these situations to their strategic essence,” explains Caltech graduate student and coauthor Rahul Bhui.However cleverly you play the Inspection Game, if your opponent is also playing strategically, there is a limit to how often you can win. That limit, many game theorists agree, is best described by the Nash equilibrium, named for mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., winner of the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, whose life and career provided the inspiration for the Academy Awardâ€“winning 2001 film A Beautiful Mind.In the first part of this study, coauthors Chris Martin and Tetsuro Matsuzawa compared the game play of six common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and 16 Japanese students, always facing off against their own species, in the Kyoto research facility. The humans behaved as expected based on previous experiments; that is, they played reasonably well, slowly learning to predict opponent choices, but they did not play optimally. They ended up somewhat off the Nash equilibrium.The performance of the chimps was far more impressive: they learned the game rapidly and nearly attained the predictions of the Nash theorem for optimal play. They continued to do so even as researchers introduced changes into the game, first by having players switch rolesâ€”matchers (seekers) becoming mismatchers (hiders), and vice versaâ€”and then by adjusting the payoffs such that matchers received greater rewards when matching on one side of the screen (left or right) rather than the other. This latter adjustment changes the Nash equilibrium for the game, and the chimps changed right along with it.In a second phase of the experiment in Bossou, Guinea, 12 adult men were asked to face one another in pairs. Instead of touching dots on a computer screen on the left or right, the men in Bossou each had a bottle cap that they placed top up or top down. As in the Kyoto experiments, one player in each pair was a mismatcher (hider) and the other was a matcher (seeker). However, the stakes were much higher in Bossou, amounting to about one full day’s earnings for the winner, as opposed to the rewards for the Japanese students, who received a handful of one yen coins. Still, the players in Bossou did not match chimpanzee performance, landing as far off the Nash equilibrium as the Japanese students did.A couple of simple explanations could account for the ability of these chimpanzees to outperform humans in the game. First, these particular chimps had more extensive training at this kind of task as well as more experience with the equipment used at the Research Institute than the human subjects did. Second, the chimps in Kyoto were related to one anotherâ€”they played in mother-child pairsâ€”and thus may have had intimate knowledge, borne of long acquaintance, of the sequence of choices their opponents would probably make.Neither explanation seems likely, researchers say. Although the Japanese students may not have had experience with the type of touch screens employed in the Kyoto facility, they certainly had encountered video games and touch screens prior to the experiment. Meanwhile, the players in Bossou knew each other very well prior to the experiments and had the additional advantage of seeing one another while they played, yet they performed no better than the Japanese students.Superior chimpanzee performance could be due to excellent short-term memory, a particular strength in chimps. This has been shown in other experiments undertaken at the Kyoto facility. In one game, a sequence of numbers is briefly flashed on the computer touch screen, and then the numbers quickly revert to white squares. Players must tap the squares in the sequence corresponding to the numbers they were initially shown. Chimpanzees are brilliant at this task, as video from the experiment shows; humans find it much more challenging, as seen in video from the Primate Research Center.But before we join a species-specific pity party over our inferior brains, rest assured that researchers offer other explanations for chimpanzee superiority at the Inspection Game. There are two possible explanations that researchers currently find plausible. The first has to do with the roles of competition and cooperation in chimpanzee versus human societies; the second with the differential evolution of human and chimpanzee brains since our evolutionary paths split between 4 and 5 million years ago.The past half-century has seen an enormous divergence of opinion as to how cooperative or competitive humans “naturally” are, and though this debate is far from settled, it is clear that wherever humans sit on the cooperative/competitive scale, common chimpanzees are more competitive with one another than we are. They create and continuously update a strong status and dominance hierarchy. (Another type of chimpanzee, Pan paniscus, or the bonobo, is considerably more cooperative than Pan troglodytes, but the former has not been studied as extensively as the latter.) Humans, in contrast, are highly prosocial and cooperative. Camerer notes that this difference is apparent in chimp and human social development. “While young chimpanzees hone their competitive skills with constant practice, playing hide-and-seek and wrestling, ” says Camerer, “their human counterparts shift at a young age from competition to cooperation using our special skill at language.”Language is probably a key factor here. In the Inspection Game experiments, humans were not allowed to speak with one another, despite language being “key to human strategic interaction,” according to Martin.Language is also implicated in the “cognitive tradeoff hypothesis,” the second explanation for the chimps’ superior performance in the Inspection Game. According to this hypothesis, developed by Matsuzawa, the brain growth and specialization that led to distinctly human cognitive capacities such as language and categorization also caused us to process certain simpler competitive situationsâ€”like the Inspection Gameâ€”more abstractly and less automatically than our chimpanzee cousins.These explanations remain speculative, but eventually, Bhui predicts, new technologies will make it possible to “map out the set of brain circuits that humans and chimps rely upon so we can discover whether or not human strategic choices go down a longer pathway or get diffused into different parts of the brain compared to chimps.”Funding for this experiment, described in a paper entitled “Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium predictions,” was provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan; the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; and Caltech’s Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. 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November 14, Children’s Day celebrates the existence of young minds. And this year was no different, as the country’s President, Pranab Mukherjee conferred 31 such young guns with coveted National Child Awards for Exceptional Achievement this Monday.One of these being Dev Shah–a 9-year-old chess wizard whose excellence in the field of sports is beyond commendable. Shah, who was awarded a silver medal, a Rs 10,000 cheque alongside a certificate, remains the youngest to be conferred with the award.Also Read: 10 Indian children who have made the nation proud “One of the things I like most about him is that he doesn’t get depressed when he loses,” Shah’s coach, DV Ganesh–who has been training him since he was four–was quoted as telling The Times of India last year.Shah, reportedly, invests upto 4-5 hours per day for at least 18-20 days each month. But how does his tiny shoulders bear the burden of juggling academics with chess? A student at Dhirubhai Amabani International School, Shah’s school is immensely supportive of his talent and organises “one-hour enrichment class(es) for him to catch up in certain subjects,” TOI reports Shah’s dad, Rahul as saying.Also Read: 4 little YouTube stars who are way cooler than you’ll ever be Hailed as the next Vishwanathan Anand by some, Shah won the World Schools Chess title held in Juiz De Fora in Brazil at the age of seven and became an household name instantly.Also Read: 5 fantastic inventions by kids under 17 that will blow your mind So, what keeps him going?advertisementShah’s passion for chess is fueled by his hunger to get better and break World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen’s record of becoming a world champion at 11–a atep ahead of Carlsen who clinched the title at the age of 13.”His passion for the game is just amazing. Kids of his age can get easily distracted with various things happening around them. But Dev is an exception,” Shah’s coach DV Ganesh told DNA after the former became India’s youngest rated and world’s fourth youngest chess player at the age of six.Apart from his chess prowess, Shah has also delivered a TED talk where he compares a chess board to a boardroom.Watch it right here.
Seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams has said that all women players “love” Andy Murray as he has always “spoken up for women’s issues”.World No. 1 Murray, whose title defence came to end at the hands of America’s Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, was asked for his thoughts on the latter who was described by a reporter “as the first American to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 2009”.The Brit corrected him by replying “male player”, as Williams alone has won 12 Grand Slams in that period.”First male player,” he shot back.Andy Murray may have lost, but nothing got past him post-match…#Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/Uniks77WKu- Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2017Williams, who is winner of record 23 Grand Slam singles, hailed Murray as a great champion of women’s sport.”There should not be a woman athlete or tennis player who is not totally supportive of Andy Murray,” Williams was quoted as saying by Sport24.”He has spoken up for women’s rights and issues especially in tennis forever. He’s done it again. That’s who he is and that’s the thing we love about him. He has done so much for us on the tour. We love Andy Murray,” she added.The 35-year-old announced in April that she will miss the remainder of the season as she will give birth to her first baby in the autumn.