should, in the long run, break even, no one player winning more often than the other. Ten wins in a row for one player defies any reasonable definition of luck.

So if this had really happened on the show, Commander Riker would have immediately accused Q of cheating. But the wiser Picard would have pondered the situation a little longer and eventually would have realized that Q’s name must be short for quantum. Only someone possessing quantum powers can always win the penny game.

As it turns out, Earth’s physicists did not need an alien to teach them about quantum games. They emerged three centuries early, on the eve of the 21st century, out of an interest in using the powers of quantum mechanics to perform difficult computations. It was an unexpected twist in the story of game theory, as quantum games disrupted the understanding of traditional “classical” games in much the way that quantum mechanics disturbed the complacency of classical physics. The invention of quantum game theory suggested that the bizarre world of quantum physics, once restricted to explaining atoms and molecules, might someday invade economics, biology, and psychology. And it may even be (though perhaps not until the 24th century) that quantum games will cement the merger of game theory and physics. In fact, if physics ever finds the recipe for forecasting and influencing the social future, it might be that quantum game theory will provide the essential ingredient.

Now, if you’ve been reading carefully all this time, it might seem a little unfair that, after coming to grips with the complexities of game theory, network math, and statistical mechanics, you must now face the bewildering weirdness of quantum physics on top of it. Fortunately, the space available here does not permit the presentation of a course in quantum mechanics. Besides, you don’t need to know everything there is to know about quantum physics to see how quantum game theory works. But you do have to be willing to suspend your disbelief about some of quantum theory’s strangest features—most importantly, the concept of multiple realities.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement