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Bacterial Prisoner's Dilemma and Game Theory

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the sporulate-is-the-word-of-the-day dept.

Biotech 95

dumuzi writes "Scientists studying how bacteria under stress collectively weigh and initiate different survival strategies say they have gained new insights into how humans make strategic decisions that affect their health, wealth and the fate of others in society. The authors of the new study are theoretical physicists and chemists at the University of California, San Diego's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics. In nature, bacteria live in large colonies whose numbers may reach up to 100 times the number of people on earth. Many bacteria respond to extreme stress — such as starvation, poisoning and irradiation — by creating spores. Alternately the bacteria may 'choose' to enter a state called competence where they are able to absorb the nutrients from their newly deceased comrades. 'Each bacterium in the colony communicates via chemical messages and performs a sophisticated decision making process using a specialized network of genes and proteins. Modeling this complex interplay of genes and proteins by the bacteria enabled the scientists to assess the pros and cons of different choices in game theory. It pays for the individual cell to take the risk and escape into competence only if it notices that the majority of the cells decide to sporulate,' explained Onuchic. 'But if this is the case, it should not take this chance because most of the other cells might reach the same conclusion and escape from sporulation.'"

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95 comments

High Scientific Goals (1)

dancingmad (128588) | more than 4 years ago | (#30423960)

Maybe someone will update Conway's game of life with these new findings... ..and I'll get a cool new screensaver.

Re:High Scientific Goals (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424036)

Scientists studying how bacteria under stress collectively weigh and initiate different survival strategies say they have gained new insights into how humans make strategic decisions that affect their health, wealth and the fate of others in society.

Bacteria give insights into how humans deal with these things? Wow. I didn't know bacteria had mass media and corrupt leaders who use fear-mongering to whip them up into a panic. I had no idea bacteria could use reason and then choose not to use it all, preferring to act like a bunch of stampeding herd animals and giving power to anyone who claims to protect us from $EVIL_OF_THE_DAY.

Re:High Scientific Goals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424336)

Nice to see someone else is as cynical as me...

Re:High Scientific Goals (2, Funny)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424178)

I for one welcome our new cell automaton overlords.

Re:High Scientific Goals (2, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424602)

Conway's Game of Life wasn't made to simulate life in any meaningful sense. It was designed by Conway because he was investigating simple cellular automata that had non-trivial behavior. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life [wikipedia.org] . It happened that the simplest interesting form he found happened to have rules that could be stated with very very rough analogs to living creatures. Some of the rules are very much stretches. For example, while bacteria can die from overcrowding, they cannot die from being lonely. And cells aren't reincarnated or made new from having three neighboring cells (I'm not aware of any species outside science fiction that requires more than two cooperating members to have sex (see for example Asimov's "The Gods Themselves")).

Re:High Scientific Goals (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425046)

Cells can be 'lonely' when they're in a place without food. Without food, the cell dies. I agree that it's doing the switcheroo on cause and effect, but hey...

Re:High Scientific Goals (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426490)

Yes, the "life" part was a metaphor. The basic point was that simple rules can result in highly complex behaviour. Classical examples from nature are the "hive minds" of bees and ants.

As for wether it is usefull, Conway's article in SciAm was what piqued my interest in computers and lead me to buying a second hand AppleII in the early 80's. It may not be as usefull to mankind as the Principa but on a personal level it was the start of a journey that lead me out of what American's call a "trailer park" and into my current $500K home by the seaside.

Bah. nothing new (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30423996)

"Alternately the bacteria may 'choose' to enter a state called competence where they are able to absorb the nutrients from their newly deceased comrades."
The vultures on Wallstreet do this all the time.

Re:Bah. nothing new (5, Funny)

Calydor (739835) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424122)

I'm pretty sure none of the Wall Street vultures have EVER entered a state called 'competence'.

Re:Bah. nothing new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424650)

They have different states to describe actions under stress, namely 'embezzlement' followed by a few stuttering states ending eventually to the state 'arrested'. The system is lively as there are always conmen and suckers as long as people are greedy. The system is fair as everybody dies eventually.

Wall street are earning billions - trillions (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#30433786)

And you? You're giving it to them, *every* which way.

Who's competent and incompetent?

 

Re:Bah. nothing new (1)

Bodhammer (559311) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424940)

Don't forget the politicians, if wall street are the vultures, they are the birdshit!

"Soylent Green is people! We've got to stop them somehow!".

Thinking Bacteria (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424056)

Each bacterium in the colony communicates via chemical messages and performs a sophisticated decision making process...

I'm sorry, but that stretches the meaning of "sophisticated" and "decision" beyond all reason.

One might just as well argue that water flowing down hill has made a sophisticated decision.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (0, Troll)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424108)

Let me guess, you are a creationist. Your comparison is fallacious.
This relates more, in my opinion to an ant colony and is not surprising in the least. Our body communicates via chemicals as well, so why should bacteria be any different?
Sophisticated, maybe not but given options and executing a plan then switching if that plan fails? Well, that is the essence of evolution.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424364)

Sophisticated, maybe not but given options and executing a plan then switching if that plan fails? Well, that is the essence of evolution.

Uhh, no. The essence of evolution is that your particular combination of genes make you more or less:
  * adapted to your environment,
  * capable of surviving to rear young.. leading to more (variations of) those genes in the gene-pool as a whole (every organisms genes).

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

linhares (1241614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424522)

I would guess that temperature, in the Hofstadterian sense [wikipedia.org] , would play a large role here. By the way, here is the full paper [pnas.org] , and miraculously, it is an open access one.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Insightful)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424236)

A rock is a computer 10 billion times more powerful than all of our computers on the planet combined. The hard problem is putting that power to good use,

Re:Thinking Bacteria (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424530)

Yeah, and a glass of water used as fuel could accelerate you to the speed of light. The hard problem is throwing it out the back fast enough.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

linhares (1241614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424616)

sorry mate. you mean a glass of whisky, right?

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425230)

Not at all the same thing. The molecules in the rock are making trillions of trillions of computations per second. They're just not in a useful arrangement. As for the molecules in water, you have to introduce an infinite amount of energy from outside to accelerate it to the speed of light.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424536)

> A rock is a computer 10 billion times more powerful than all of our computers on the planet combined.

Is that including the other rocks?

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30425258)

> A rock is a computer 10 billion times more powerful than all of our computers on the planet combined.

Is that including the other rocks?

Yes. It's only that particular rock that's so powerful. All of the rest of them are dumb as, well, rocks.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#30428986)

A rock is a computer 10 billion times more powerful than all of our computers on the planet combined. The hard problem is putting that power to good use,

I think you forgot to turn the computer on.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

Wordplay (54438) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424244)

I'm sorry, but that stretches the meaning of "sophisticated" and "decision" beyond all reason.

One might just as well argue that water flowing down hill has made a sophisticated decision.

Only at the point that the water is has done so for the greater good of the lake.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424374)

Only at the point that the water is has done so for the greater good of the lake.

Whenever I tried to read this, my brain throws an exception.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

lilomar (1072448) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425582)

Only at the point that the water is has done so for the greater good of the lake.

Whenever I tried to read this, my brain throws an exception.

That is because you reject the 4-Corner time-cube [timecube.com] !

YOU can't handle Cubic Time, Cubic Life
or Cubic Truth - for insideof Time Cube
equates the most magnificient symmetry
of opposites existing within the universe -
for every corner has an equal opposite corner,
every 2 corners has an equal opposite 2
  corners, every tri-corner has an equal
opposite tri-corner and every 4 corners has
an equal opposite 4 corners. No human or
  god can utter such powerful ineffable
opposite Cubic Truth.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426116)

That is because you reject the 4-Corner time-cube! [timecube.com]

Yay, 48-pt text - always a good indicator of article quality.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

lilomar (1072448) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426526)

Um, less I get modded troll, the joke is that the line

Only at the point that the water is has done so for the greater good of the lake.

Sounds like a line from TimeCube, even though it was probably just Wordplay (appropriate nick) typing too fast.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30429268)

Thanks for the heads-up :D

timecube is painful - I can't help wondering if the author suffered a head-injury prior to writing it.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

Wordplay (54438) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426474)

It was an unfortunate typo--I fail preview. :)

My point was that coincidental behavior is only coincidental until such point that it starts fulfilling basic life criteria, such as self-survival, and is passed between generations. Evolution is pretty much all about coincidental behavior becoming non-coincidental.

What is interesting here is that coincidental behavior has bridged self-survival and species-survival, and performs at a sophisticated enough level to be interesting but at a simple enough level to be comprehensible.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30429252)

Evolution is pretty much all about coincidental behavior becoming non-coincidental.

Yah, who knows what societies we've missed-out on because 'way-back-when', aggression was more useful than cooperation, from a survival perspective.

Hopefully those from 10,000 years into the future won't say the same thing :(

Re:Thinking Bacteria (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30433334)

Evolution is pretty much all about coincidental behavior becoming non-coincidental.

Yah, who knows what societies we've missed-out on because 'way-back-when', aggression was more useful than cooperation, from a survival perspective.

Hopefully those from 10,000 years into the future won't say the same thing :(

Uh for all definitions of "way-back-when" greater than 150 years ago almost all people lived in communities of some sort and cooperation was a daily aspect of their lives. Sure there were hermits and outcasts, but even they occasionally interacted with others. Also, if you compare humans to other apes, it becomes clear that we are the most cooperative, socially sophisticated, and calmest species of the bunch. I don't know about the rest of the world, but most posters on Slashdot seriously understatement the amount of cooperation that exists in human societies, both past and present.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

hrimhari (1241292) | more than 4 years ago | (#30438332)

Fear not! Gene variety and mutation can bring back nearly anything lost on that dry, careless evolution process... as long as there's sufficient time to adapt to the new challenges.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424284)

Obviously the bacteria aren't "thinking" in any way that could usefully be crammed into the usual definition of the word; but I don't think that either "sophisticated" or "decision" are being distorted at all.

It is quite common, for instance, to refer machines that have a fair number of parts and are good at what they do as "sophisticated"("a sophisticated inertial navigation mechanism"). Even unicellular procaryotes have a fair amount going on inside, so they could easily fall under this definition.

As for "decision", that certainly can imply a process of rational, reflective cogitation; but it is also quite commonly applied to fairly simple, entirely mechanistic, things. "Decision Algorithms", for instance, are explicitly designed to be mechanistic and, as their name suggests, make decisions. The idea that the process whereby a cell enters either stateA or stateB depending on certain inputs is a "decision process" seems wholly reasonable to me.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426130)

I take all this to mean that there are several inputs, a complex process that determines the output (what action is performed), and the output is one that an intelligent being would be likely to come to, given the same limited available information and amount of time available to deliberate. Given enough complexity, "sophisticated decision-making" could easily be appropriate terms.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424352)

You're attacking vagueness with vagueness. What exactly do you mean by decision?

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424354)

I'm sorry, but that stretches the meaning of "sophisticated" and "decision" beyond all reason.

One might just as well argue that water flowing down hill has made a sophisticated decision.

That's hardly a good comparison. If you wrote a piece of software that had a similarly sophisticated decision making process you would call it just that although the process is completely deterministic. Water flowing downhill is just shaped by the terrain although the turbulence is complex. The water contains no complex mechanism comparable to that of a bacterium.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426086)

Software is an even WORSE comparison.

Software is encapsulated human knowledge and decision making.

Bacteria have no such knowledge, no way to make decisions, and no intelligence to support them, unless of course you adhere to a certain religious view, in which case why would anyone be surprised at the bacteria's survival "strategy".

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426684)

Human decision making is taking inputs and deciding on an output based on the inputs + internal biases. This is the same process as in software and in bacteria. Humans can do this process in a generic way, where in the other two examples they are limited to pre-defined scenarios - but its not really that different. I think there is a confusion here between decision making and consciousness, which is strictly speaking not necessary for decision making (i.e. rational decision making).

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426936)

Decision making requires intelligence. It requires the ability to choose or not choose.

Dogs can choose. They can decide to bark or wag.

Grass can not choose. It blows in the wind. It can not "decide" to lay down and avoid being blown.

Chemicals swirled in a beaker can not Decide to combine or not combine, to react, or remain inert. It can not decide which molecules will combine with another chemical and which ones will not.

Bacteria can not choose. They are sacks of chemicals and micro-structures that react or don't react based on the molecules near them. There is no intelligence there.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Interesting)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30427222)

Why do you need intelligence to do decision-making? This seems an arbitrary requirement - and the literature on decision-making doesn't use intelligence as a prerequisite, rather it refers to cognition - which is more rigorously defined and can be automated.

Your example of grass and dogs seems quite confused - grass lacks the ability to move in real time so the notion of it being unable to choose to lay down seems bizarre, unless I am missing something. According to this one could argue that a failure of a dog to teleport out of the way of a bus shows their inability to make decisions! Likewise chemicals are following externally set rules in physics, there is no internal selection of outcome.

Perhaps the difference in our thinking relies on the definition of decision-making. The one I use is the one used in most decision-making literature, which roughly states is "a cognitive process of selecting among several different options based on external and internal factors." According to this the bacteria is engaging in decision making as it is selecting for several different courses of action. Its use of cognition is pretty basic, but more that enough to satisfy that criteria - its processing information and applying internal biases to select a course of action.

Also your statement about bacteria being sacks of chemicals and micro structures and its reaction is just as applicable to humans and dogs as to bacteria. Remember that we are made up of individual cells too.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

juhaz (110830) | more than 4 years ago | (#30445342)

Bacteria have no such knowledge, no way to make decisions, and no intelligence to support them, unless of course you adhere to a certain religious view, in which case why would anyone be surprised at the bacteria's survival "strategy".

Of course they do. Bacteria have knowledge instilled into them by evolution rather than by humans.

Software produced by a genetic algorithm would be a pretty good match - external factors (humans/environment) enforce the wanted outcome, but the system does make decisions that help it reach that result.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Insightful)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424630)

Bingo, there is some major over generalization going on in this article. The chemical reactions of bacteria to a chemical threat, even honed by millions of years of evolution, are not directly comparable to human reactions to information or threat. Even with billions of members a colony of bacteria has less chemical and informational content than a much smaller number of humans.

"Everyone knows the need to try to postpone important decisions until the last moment but apparently there are simple creatures that do it well and therefore can really teach us -- the bacteria," Really? And if postponing the decision has an impact on the possibility of implementing the selected solution? When a politician delays making a decision he can appear weak and indecisive which is certainly not a benefit - IF he has the data and can make the correct decision earlier. Similarly delaying one decision can have a direct impact on later decisions even when you don't know what those decisions are.

In defense of the article the true value could be in the calculations for weighing the probability of the optimum solution given perfect information that are derived from the bacteria. - a situation never to occur in human history but useful for reference and as a base for future theory.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Interesting)

hazem (472289) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425204)

One might just as well argue that water flowing down hill has made a sophisticated decision.

Actually, the behaviors and communication of groups of bacteria are much more complex than water flowing downhill. Consider that when you get a bacterial infection, the bacteria will typically work in a "growth phase" where they are multiplying but not doing being virulent. When the bacteria reach a certain population size (or density), they all switch on their virulence. Individuals are making decisions that actually manifest as a group decision. Water molecules do not do this.

A very interesting lecture on this is at:
http://www.ted.com/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html [ted.com]

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426100)

There is no "decision" being made. Period.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Interesting)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30427050)

Please explain how the chemical process in your head do not lead to your decision that there is no decision.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (0, Troll)

huckamania (533052) | more than 4 years ago | (#30431430)

I'll give it a shot. The chemical/electrical processes in his head gets really turned on by the fact that individual bacterium communicate using chemicals. Feedback from the chemicals in his head make him dizzy thinking of the little notes passed back and forth like "good luck" and "you've changed since the last time we talked". Not one to RTFA, the chemicals in his head move on to the next story.

There, I explained how the chemical processes in his head could have not lead him to his decision that there is no decision. Whew, that was one tough sentence to parse. Hope that helped.

The famous 'chemical process in my head' defense. That's right up there with the 'Wookie defense'.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 4 years ago | (#30441336)

There is no "decision" being made. Period.

Well, then what do you mean by "decision"?

At its fundamental level, a decision the selection of one option from among more than one, based on some input information.

A bacteria, taking in information about how many of its own species are nearby, and information about the overall population of all types bacteria, determines if its species is in the majority and if there are enough of them. It uses this information to decide whether to keep reproducing or to become virulent.

While simpler, this is essentially the same as groups of neurons in your brain taking information from your stomach, your history of likes and dislikes, and the menu in front of you, to make the decision to tell the waiter you want the chicken sandwich rather than the clam chowder for lunch.

Information comes in, is processed, and a decision comes out.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Funny)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 4 years ago | (#30431512)

Not true. Once, I introduced a colony of water molecules onto a table. As is typical, they work in a "spread phase" where increase the area-to-water-stack-height ratio. Once they've detected the edge of the table, they begin "burrow mode" and start propagating a message for other water molecules to replaced the ones that started burrowing.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

NonSequor (230139) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425288)

Each bacterium in the colony communicates via chemical messages and performs a sophisticated decision making process...

I'm sorry, but that stretches the meaning of "sophisticated" and "decision" beyond all reason.

One might just as well argue that water flowing down hill has made a sophisticated decision.

In the same sense that a neuron in your brain isn't "thinking" when it does or doesn't fire.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425354)

Or that yer puny humans, caught in ludicrous four dimensions, would be able to do such things!

And one of ’em isn’t even rolled out! *ha ha ha ha ha* *wipes tear*

Greets,

Pirate Zombie Cthulhu Ninja, the IIIrd.
First Rank Transdimensional Overlord

Re:Thinking Bacteria (2, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426962)

The water had no choice, gravity decided for it. Besides the human brian is basically a colony of single celled automata that communicate via chemical messages and perform a sophisticated decision making process (well sometimes anyway).

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30427014)

Exactly my point.

The bacteria had no choice. The chemicals decided for it. They have no mechanism that can choose.

Re:Thinking Bacteria (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30429066)

"They have no mechanism that can choose.

And yet they clearly do.

I think you are confusing choice with consious choice. But even if we define choice as a consious choice, philosophically speaking you cannot show that a highly intergrated colonoy of bacteria do not posses some kind of "mind" unless you make one of two assumptions...
1) Mind does not emerge from the physical process of the brain
OR
2) Only brains can produce a mind.

strategy sounds familiar (5, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424076)

a case of where the individuals are all trying to make decisions that are selfish, but if everyone is selfish, no one wins, so some have to be selfish and some have to fold, for any to survive. I seem to remember playing games like that as a kid, where it was basically a game of chicken, where no one could do anything until everyone was generous, and so everyone then starts building up, and whoever managed to switch back to greedy first won. Also reminiscent of the stock market during a bubble, eh?

Re:strategy sounds familiar (4, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424444)

I seem to remember playing games like that as a kid, where it was basically a game of chicken, where no one could do anything until everyone was generous, and so everyone then starts building up, and whoever managed to switch back to greedy first won. Also reminiscent of the stock market during a bubble, eh?

Stock markets do not allow for equal access to information.
That inequality seriously skews any game theory in favor of the well connected.

Re:strategy sounds familiar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30429790)

Stock markets do not allow for equal access to information.
That inequality seriously skews any game theory in favor of the well connected.

Game Theory also considers these facts, in order to avoid any bias. There are situations classified as "imperfect information".

Re:strategy sounds familiar (1)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 4 years ago | (#30430276)

Stock markets do not allow for equal access to information.
That inequality seriously skews any game theory in favor of the well connected.

I'd guess that the same is true for the bacteria. Information will diffuse out chemically; they won't all know something at the same time. Of course, statistically, it probably doesn't matter, since the first movers among the bacteria world aren't going to be first by much. They'll all decide things more-or-less at the same time, by happenstance.

Re:strategy sounds familiar (1)

hawkfish (8978) | more than 4 years ago | (#30438150)

Stock markets do not allow for equal access to information.

This is also what stabilises them...

Re:strategy sounds familiar (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425490)

I think the problem is your definition of “one”. In fact, if everyone is selfish, exactly one wins. But if they work together, they may all together win more. Maybe even more than what they would have won by being selfish. It also depends on the resources available.

But “one” can really be everything, from the whole planet, over whole humanity, over a whole social group, down to one individual, or even just a part of it.
And so, one “one” winning or everybody winning, essentially is the same thing.

Re:strategy sounds familiar (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426906)

play a game with friends. Top couple players by points win at the end. Everyone either chooses A, B, or C for maybe 10 rounds.

If you pick A, you get one point

if you pick B, you get two points for everyone else that picked B, minus 3 points for everyone that picked C

if you pick C, you get five points, plus two points for everyone that picked B, minus ten points for everyone else that picked C

Run that ten rounds and see what happens.

At the start it's clear that B is a good pick because everyone builds points fast. But then someone picks C and jumps ahead while all the B's get burned a little. Next round a bunch of people pick C and things spiral rapidly downhill from there, eventually with everyone picking C and everyone in the hole, except for the few that picked B until just before the first C, when they switched to A - who win the game.

Re:strategy sounds familiar (1)

lobiusmoop (305328) | more than 4 years ago | (#30427040)

FYI this is formally known as The Tragedy of the Commons [wikipedia.org] . From a bacteria-level perspective it describes the rather unfortunate fate of brewing yeast, which grows to the point where its own alchoholic excrement kills it.

Re:strategy sounds familiar (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30429234)

This begs the question "Can't we all just not switch back to greedy?"

Yeah yeah, I know... -1 Utopian fantasy.

Pfft... predicting social behaviour... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424084)

That's so easy even I could do it!

First, assume the world's population is an ideal gas in a frictionless vacuum...

Re:Pfft... predicting social behaviour... (2, Funny)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424200)

First, assume the world's population is an ideal gas in a frictionless vacuum...

So the population of the world = 0? No wonder it's frictionless.

Bacteria analogous to human beings? (1)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424140)

Yes because the way that a colony of bacteria reacts is totally similar to how a population of human beings would react.

Are they serious?

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (2)

wellingj (1030460) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424272)

I don't think we will like the implications if they say yes.

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (1)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424274)

Have you been following our recession?

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (2, Interesting)

linhares (1241614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424576)

human population growth is much more bacteria-like than primate-like.

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (2, Insightful)

easyTree (1042254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424434)

I'm more interested in how various strategies used by scientists when making the "latest wild claim" (tm) affects their level of success within the game of scientist-gene evolution.

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425110)

Yes because the way that a colony of bacteria reacts is totally similar to how a population of human beings would react.

Are they serious?

I know, right? Don't they know that humans are actually a virus?

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30433918)

Yes because the way that a colony of bacteria reacts is totally similar to how a population of human beings would react.

Are they serious?

I know, right? Don't they know that humans are actually a virus?

Virus != bacteria... You've just failed microbial biology for ever.:P

Re:Bacteria analogous to human beings? (3, Interesting)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426764)

They are - and for good reason. Game theory has been very successful in understanding some of the basic trade-offs involved in individual vs group decision-making. Certain set-ups such as the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoners_dilemma [wikipedia.org] are generic forms of common problems that are encountered both in the human world and the natural world. Having worked in this area I can tell you that solutions found in the natural world often end up as inspiration for real life applications - such as regulation of industry and organisational psychology. At the end of the day one of the most re-occurring problems is how to get selfish people to co-operate as a group - and this problem has been solved so many times by nature in so many ways its basically a handy repository of tried and true solutions just waiting to be discovered.

James Cagney as a Bacterium... (2, Funny)

theNAM666 (179776) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424296)

Now look here guys, see, I'll spore as soon as each of you spore, but if any one of you display any signs of competence, it's...

Numbers (1)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424334)

So, globally, considering the number of bacteria, could they be the most advanced intelligence? Of course being loosely coupled their time-scale of thought would be extremely slow. They would also exist in a reality very much different than ours.

But then again, once you get inclusive and start using words like "ecosystems" then you can "sum" the "intelligence", everything only has meaning in relation to something else. Together, Earth, is a mind.

Re:Numbers (1)

linhares (1241614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424592)

I can't refrain from pointing out that you seem to have a very adequate userid

Re:Numbers (1)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424764)

:D ;) Wiki Metaphysics. What makes a rock a rock and not just a collection of atoms. Its taking pieces and drawing an abstract boundary around them. We call such groupings many things.

Good Bacteria interaction overview (good watching) (2, Informative)

MonsterMasher (518641) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424344)

    Very strange - I just finished watching this lecture video this morning. I've all so seen her talk in TED.com

      http://microbeworld.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=516458&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asm+(MicrobeWorld+Video)# [libsyn.com]

Cool Stuff!

Center forTheoretical Biological Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424510)

I'm assuming the longish name is necessary to distinguish it from UCSD's Center for Experimental Biological Physics?

Re:Center forTheoretical Biological Physics (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 4 years ago | (#30428844)

I think that's called Black Mesa.

Misleading article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424654)

v1... It's called the tragedy of the commons. It is a very old and well-studied phenomenon in game theory.

These scientists really haven't done anything interesting for the game theory community. For their areas, this is outstanding, but for people like myself that work in math and algorithmic game theory, this is hardly a more advanced game that is being played. In particular, imagine multi-agent systems where there are micro-second level decisions that have to be made with much larger strategy profiles being used. Time is definitely being taken into consideration, especially when defending a network from intrusion or other time-sensitive domains.

Genetic induced behaviour ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30424920)

I'm not really sure, what they want to tell me.
I mean those cells don't have free will and make up decisions up on what's best for their own survival as an individuum.
If there are two populations of bacteria, one with only selfish acting bacteria and one with bacteria that cooperate and where cells even might act unselfish for the greater good and gain an advantage that way over the 1st population, then ofc evolution will prefer the cooperating cells, when the overall reproduction/survival rate of them is just better. Survival of the fittest doesn't necessarily mean survival of the fittest individuum, but survival of the fittest genes. This can also mean survival of those organisms, who perform better,.when organized in a group, so that the group gets an advantage over other groups.
If one looks at ants and bees it's quite obvious. Evolution doesn't care much about the individuum, it just cares that the genetic code is spread most efficiently and it even chooses solutions where thousands of individums don't get any chance for reproduction at all. The bee queen acts as a genetic copy machine and the other animals keep it running and they don't really have a choice then to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, but evolution/math made them that way.

Great Program, Wrong Channel (2, Insightful)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424958)

They've done a bang up job investigating how bacteria adapt, and from the names and departments listed, I can see how they'd be quite able to do so as well as apply it to an expanded game theory scenario.

But applying it to human decision making, strategic or otherwise? Sorry, but they should have included someone on the team from behavioral science that could have pointed out the glaring differences.

They happen on one themselves in saying the bacteria don't lie. The level of stress they're talking about is equivalent to massive drought/starvation. Humans under such conditions do and say all kinds of things, most of it to some degree hiding real intentions.

To extend that, some of human behavior is rational under normal conditions, some isn't (emotionally driven isn't, for instance). With increased stress, less and less is rational. Their very nicely done description of possible decisions at various points based on DNA is entirely rational throughout. Not that the bacteria think, but that the decision is predetermined by being programmed in. There is no irrational result, no off-the-wall craziness drastic behavior resulting in novel solutions. Humans do this. In fact, novel results is a major difference between their work and pretty much any higher organism.

I don't find it particularly instructive that bacteria put off "decision making" until the last moment. As if people don't? It's human nature to constantly refine decisions according to the situation, including attempting top adapt to the situation after a decision has been implemented and the crucial point passed.

The final point they make, where one has to decide based on best guess of others' future behavior, is fairly telling of a major difference between bacteria and humans. Humans can coordinate their decisions so that none obtain an optimal result but all obtain a satisfactory result. That flies in the face of traditional game and economic theory. It also earned John Nash a Nobel. Bacteria can't discuss with predictive insight, they can only wait until the last moment to react.

NOT a prisoner's dilemma (4, Insightful)

Main Gauche (881147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30425690)

Why is it that anyone who's learned the slightest bit of game theory suddenly thinks everything is a Prisoner's Dilemma?

In a (1-shot) Prisoner's Dilemma, one action is always better for you than another, leaving little to analyze.

In the Bacteria's game, the bacteria are obviously programmed to do what is best to ensure the survival of the species. (FTFA: "bacteria usually do not cheat their friends and inform them by sending chemical messages about their true intensions.") Whether a bacterium should spore or not depends on the proportion of other bacteria doing each action. This is not the structure of a P.D. It's one thing for journalists to make a bad reference, but the physicist himself refers to Prisoner's Dilemma.

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (1)

kressaty (1699650) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426008)

Actually, that's not really 100% either. In a single play of a prisoner's dilemma, you still don't know what's best because you don't know what your opponent is going to do; you can only hope that he's going to hold his tongue, but since he won't, you'll both rat each other out no matter what. It's more of a "Sneetches" game, where all the bacteria know that the majority need to survive in order for them to obtain a "stable" outcome and keep living as a whole. Suppose there are an odd number of bacteria. Then either the individual bacteria wants to spore or not spore, but he doesn't want to do what the majority does. We see nash equilibria at (n-1)/2 bacteria sporing and (n+1)/2 bacteria not sporing if we split them down the middle. FTFA: "Observations have shown that indeed only about 10 percent of the bacteria enter into competence." Therefore instead of having it split down the middle, it's simply a matter of one more than ~10% and one less than ~10%. This makes me wonder whether it's a game at all, or whether there are other reasons they haven't yet seen. To understand the Sneetches game, read http://books.google.com/books?id=WcvRcTu9RZ8C&lpg=PA142&ots=_SiHtETh_u&dq=Suppose%20there%20are%20k%20sneetches%20born%20with%20stars%20and%20k%20%E2%89%A4%20n&pg=PA119#v=onepage&q=sneetches&f=false [google.com]

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (2, Informative)

zarzu (1581721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426544)

Actually, that's not really 100% either. In a single play of a prisoner's dilemma, you still don't know what's best because you don't know what your opponent is going to do; you can only hope that he's going to hold his tongue, but since he won't, you'll both rat each other out no matter what.

no, the whole point of it is that every player has one dominating strategy, meaning no matter what the opponent does, this one strategy is always the best. what your opponent does changes your actual win, but in a one-shot PD it never influences your choice.

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (1)

zacronos (937891) | more than 4 years ago | (#30431260)

Actually, that's not really 100% either. In a single play of a prisoner's dilemma, you still don't know what's best because you don't know what your opponent is going to do; you can only hope that he's going to hold his tongue, but since he won't, you'll both rat each other out no matter what.

no, the whole point of it is that every player has one dominating strategy, meaning no matter what the opponent does, this one strategy is always the best. what your opponent does changes your actual win, but in a one-shot PD it never influences your choice.

I was under the impression that the important part of PD was that the dominating strategy is not globally optimal -- hence the "dilemma": if you both choose the dominating strategy, you both do worse than if you both choose the vulnerable strategy. The idea of a one-shot is, in my opinion, the most artificial aspect of PD, as in the real world even a one-shot PD is merely one of a series of PD games played among one large player pool, and thus I believe many people consider that "what goes around comes around" even when faced with a supposedly one-shot PD.

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (1)

zarzu (1581721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30434532)

well yes, the interesting part of PD is if it's not a one-shot game, and as you pointed out in reality you will hardly ever face a one-shot. but there is no actual dilemma in a one-shot PD if you only care about yourself (which is what i was answering to), however there is still a dilemma present if you consider empathy and the hope that everyone can work together and be happy (in a real life experiment you will see that in a one-shot PD many people will not choose the dominant strategy even though they're aware of there only being one iteration).

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#30426880)

the bacteria are obviously programmed to do what is best to ensure the survival of the species.

Why does everyone who's learned the slightest bit of evolutionary theory suddenly think everything is about the survival of the species?

It's never about the survival of the species. In this case, where some kin-selection has unsurprisingly being going on, it's about survival of the most closely related individuals.

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30427908)

In the Bacteria's game, the bacteria are obviously programmed to do what is best to ensure the survival of the species.

Evolution is always about what is best for the single organism, i.e. no group selection, contrary to what you imply.

Re:NOT a prisoner's dilemma (1)

mkarcher (136108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30478680)

Evolution is always about what is best for the single organism, i.e. no group selection, contrary to what you imply.

Wow, biology fail. Evolution is about what is best for an organism's genes. An organism and its siblings and cousins share genes, and therefore share an evolutionary fate. Group selection is all over the place.

And the answer, please? (1)

garethharris (1292166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30429940)

As has been said: Asking if machines can think is like asking if submarines can swim. And the answer may not be what you expect.

solution (1)

fulldecent (598482) | more than 4 years ago | (#30431502)

the optimal solution in a situation like that requires each cell to make probabilistic and independent decisions.

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