I’ve just watched a very interesting TedTalk by a man called Bruce Bueno de Mesquita.1 Several things made it noteworthy. The graphics were very clear and very well thought out. The thesis was interesting -- that it is possible to predict the outcome of complex negotiations with a game theoretic approach that considers the self-interest of all those who can influence the outcome. And especially the conclusion, that Iran is likely to proceed to making a small amount of weapons grade plutonium -- to prove that they can -- but will stop well short of building a bomb. This by the end of 2010 or early 2011. He also predicts that I’m A Dinner Jacket is waning in influence while “moneyed interests” and “quiet, moderate” mullahs are gaining.

All of which is rather hopeful. The model comes with a CIA stamp of approval2 which says that it is correct 90% of the time, when the experts are wrong. And in question time, he said that it would be no bad thing if the Iranians saw this TedTalk, because (and I paraphrase) “we know what you’re going to end up wanting and if you accept that, we can get there more quickly and with less fear and manipulation”.

All fine and dandy, and the talk could be considered convincing in addition to slick. But there was absolutely no hint of how the model worked. Oh yeah, it uses game theory and considers what people say they want, their influence, their commitment and their flexibility to map likely outcomes. For all I know the whole thing is highly classified. But just a little peek through the smoke and behind the mirrors would have convinced me a whole lot more, even if I hadn’t understood it. 3


  1. 2022-04-20: When people describe someone as a Nostradamus, do they mean to say he is a total fraud, or some sort of seer? 

  2. Not sure how valuable that is these days.  

  3. The last, similar, talk I watched was Thomas Barnett's, and I continue to follow him, but I'm not terribly motivated to follow Bueno de Mesquita.  

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