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Profile: Robin Hanson (George Mason University)
  1. Robin Hanson, Buy Health, Not Health Care.
    Perhaps some simple change will do the trick, like relying less on insurance and employers as middlemen. But if we are willing to consider radical change, let me offer a different suggestion. We are buying the wrong thing. What we want is health, i.e., a long healthy life, but when we sit down and draw up a contract, what we buy is health care, i.e., a certain degree of attention from health care specialists.
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  2. Robin Hanson, Could Gambling Save Science.
    The pace of scientific progress may be hindered by the tendency of our academic institutions to reward being popular, rather than being right. A market-based alternative, where scientists more formally "stake their reputation", is presented here. It offers clear incentives to be careful and honest while contributing to a visible, self-consistent consensus on controversial (or routine) scientific questions. In addition, it allows funders to choose questions to be researched without choosing people or methods. The bulk of this paper is spent (...)
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  3. Robin Hanson, Can Wiretaps Remain Cost Effective?
    Until recently, technology has happened to allow for cheap wiretaps. New digital telephone technologies, however, may soon make wiretaps more difficult, and new encryption technologies may soon make them almost impossible. This may be good news to privacy buffs, but it worries U.S. police agencies -- since 1968 the law has explicitly allowed police wiretaps. And it worries U.S. spy agencies -- since 1978 the law has explicitly allowed them to wiretap foreigners.
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  4. Robin Hanson, Foul Play in Information Markets.
    People have long noticed that speculative markets, though created for other purposes, also do a great job of aggregating relevant information. In fact, it is hard to find information not embodied by such market prices. This is, in part, because anyone who finds such neglected information can profit by trading on it, thereby reducing the neglect.1 So far, speculative markets have done well in every known head-to-head field comparison with other forecasting institutions. Orange juice futures improved on National Weather Service (...)
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  5. Robin Hanson, If Uploads Come First.
    What if we someday learn how to model small brain units, and so can "upload" ourselves into new computer brains? What if this happens before we learn how to make human-level artificial intelligences? The result could be a sharp transition to an upload-dominated world, with many dramatic consequences. In particular, fast and cheap replication may once again make Darwinian evolution of human values a powerful force in human history. With evolved values, most uploads would value life even when life is (...)
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  6. Robin Hanson, Need Robots Waste Bits to See, Talk, and Achieve?
    A computer's task is often taken to be that of starting with some input, grinding for a while, and eventually returning an output. Remarkably, all such tasks can be accomplished "reversibly", with an arbitrarily low intrinsic entropy cost, and in reasonable space and time relative to irreversible approaches.
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  7. Robin Hanson, Reality and Fantasy in Economic Revolutions.
    Economic growth is terribly important. Small differences in growth rates eventually overwhelm most other considerations, so the clustering and innovation externalities that create growth differences deserve far more public attention. Unfortunately most people yawn at growth theory; they prefer stories about conflict, status, moral fiber, heroes, and epic changes.
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  8. Robin Hanson, The Determinants of the Quantity of Health Insurance: Evidence From Self-Insured and Not Self-Insured Employer-Based Health Plans.
    This paper presents an empirical analysis of the determinants of quantity of health insurance in the context of employer-based health insurance using the micro-level data from the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey (NMES). It extends the previous research by including additional factors in the analysis, which significantly affect health insurance offers by employers. This paper emphasizes two determinants of employers’ insurance offer decisions that are particularly relevant: union membership and selfinsured versus not self-insured health plans. The conducted empirical analysis reported (...)
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  9. Robin Hanson, The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?
    Humanity seems to have a bright future, i.e., a non-trivial chance of expanding to fill the universe with lasting life. But the fact that space near us seems dead now tells us that any given piece of dead matter faces an astronomically low chance of begating such a future. There thus exists a great filter between death and expanding lasting life, and humanity faces the ominous question: how far along this filter are we?
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  10. Robin Hanson, Toward Hypertext Publishing.
    Hypertext publishing, the integration of a large body (perhaps billions) of public writings into a unified hypertext environment, will require the simultaneous solution of problems involving very wide database distribution, royalties, freedom of speech, and privacy. This paper describes these problems and presents, for criticism and discussion, an abstract design which seems to solve many of them. This design, called LinkText, is presented both as a specification and as design approaches grouped around various levels of electronic publishing.
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  11. Robin D. Hanson, Decision Markets.
    Engineers’ love of technology often gets in the way of their being useful. Consider Post-it Notes or, better yet, plain paper notepads. These probably seemed like trivial ideas, but they turned out to be terribly useful. Why? Because the marvel that is the human brain has a horrible short-term memory, which means that dumb-as-dirt memory aids can make people substantially smarter.
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  12. David Porter & Robin Hanson, Can Manipulators Mislead Market Observers?
    We study experimental markets where privately informed traders exchange simple assets, and where uninformed third parties are asked to forecast the values of these assets, guided only by market prices. Although prices only partially aggregate information, they significantly improve the forecasts of third parties. In a second treatment, a portion of traders are given preferences over the forecasts made by observers. Although we find evidence that these traders attempt to manipulate prices in order to influence the beliefs of observers, we (...)
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  13. Robin Hanson, An Experimental Test of Combinatorial Information Markets.
    While a simple information market lets one trade on the probability of each value of a single variable, a full combinatorial information market lets one trade on any combination of values of a set of variables, including any conditional or joint probability. In laboratory experiments, we compare the accuracy of simple markets, two kinds of combinatorial markets, a call market and a market maker, isolated individuals who report to a scoring rule, and two ways to combine those individual reports into (...)
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  14. Robin Hanson, A Manipulator Can Aid Prediction Market Accuracy.
    Prediction markets are low volume speculative markets whose prices offer informative forecasts on particular policy topics. Observers worry that traders may attempt to mislead decision makers by manipulating prices. We adapt a Kyle-style market microstructure model to this case, adding a manipulator with an additional quadratic preference regarding the price. In this model, when other traders are uncertain about the manipulator’s target price, the mean target price has no effect on prices, and increases in the variance of the target price (...)
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  15. Robin Hanson, Adverse Selection In Group Insurance: The Virtues of Failing to Represent Voters.
    Compared with non-union workers, union workers take more of their compensation in the form of insurance. This may be because unions choose democratically, and democratic choice mitigates adverse selection in group insurance. Relative to individually-purchased insurance, we show that group insurance chosen by an ideal profit-maximizing employer can be worse for every employee, while group insurance chosen democratically can be much better. The reason is that democracy can fail to represent the preferences of almost half the group.
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  16. Robin Hanson, Bayesian Classification Theory.
    Artificial Intelligence Research Branch NASA Ames Research Center, Mail Stop 244-17 Moffet Field, CA 94035, USA Email: @ptolemy.arc.nasa.gov..
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  17. Robin Hanson, Beware Double-Standards.
    Consider a health policy issue like child car seats in the U.S., mosquito netting in the third world, preschool education for poor children, or the immunization of immigrants. Imagine that for this issue there were many good studies over several decades, including some recent studies. Imagine that after controlling for many factors, these studies usually found that variations in spending or usage were significantly, substantially, and positively related to variations in health. Furthermore, imagine this result was confirmed by a thirty (...)
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  18. Robin Hanson, Book Orders for Market Scoring Rules.
    This explains how to smoothly integrate booked orders with a combinatorial market maker, all for the general case of bets on E[x|A] for arbitrary random variables x and sets A.
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  19. Robin Hanson, Burning the Cosmic Commons: Evolutionary Strategies for Interstellar Colonization.
    Attempts to model interstellar colonization may seem hopelessly compromised by uncertainties regarding the technologies and preferences of advanced civilizations. If light speed limits travel speeds, however, then a selection effect may eventually determine frontier behavior. Making weak assumptions about colonization technology, we use this selection effect to predict colonists’ behavior, including which oases they colonize, how long they stay there, how many seeds they then launch, how fast and far those seeds fly, and how behavior changes with increasing congestion. This (...)
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  20. Robin Hanson, Combinatorial Information Market Design.
    Department of Economics, George Mason University, MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030, USA E-mail: rhanson@gmu.edu (http://hanson.gmu.edu).
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  21. Robin Hanson, Can Manipulators Mislead Market Observers?
    We study experimental markets where privately informed traders exchange simple assets, and where uninformed third parties are asked to forecast the values of these assets, guided only by market prices. Although prices only partially aggregate information, they significantly improve the forecasts of third parties. In a second treatment, a portion of traders are given preferences over the forecasts made by observers. Although we find evidence that these traders attempt to manipulate prices in order to influence the beliefs of observers, we (...)
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  22. Robin Hanson, Causes of Confidence in Conflict.
    In a simple model of conflict, two agents fight over a fixed prize, and how hard they fight depends on what they believe about their abilities. To this model I add “preagents,” representing parents, leaders, or natural selection, who choose each agent’s confidence in his ability. Depending on the reason for such confidence, I find five different patterns in how confidence varies with ability. Agents who estimate their ability with error have under-confidence when ability is high and over-confidence when ability (...)
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  23. Robin Hanson, Catastrophe, Social Collapse, and Human Extinction.
    Humans have slowly built more productive societies by slowly acquiring various kinds of capital, and by carefully matching them to each other. Because disruptions can disturb this careful matching, and discourage social coordination, large disruptions can cause a “social collapse,” i.e., a reduction in productivity out of proportion to the disruption. For many types of disasters, severity seems to follow a power law distribution. For some of types, such as wars and earthquakes, most of the expected harm is predicted to (...)
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  24. Robin Hanson, Correction to McKelvey and Page, “Public and Private Information: An Experimental Study of Information Pooling”.
    In their article, McKelvey and Page note that In previous experimental work, ... [researchers] investigated how individuals use public information to augment their original private information, and whether in doing so, a rational expectations equilibrium is attained. ... [But either] the inference processes are complicated because of the enormous number of potential interactions among the individuals, and the optimal inference processes are not analyzed. ... [or] the inference process is analyzed but the working assumption is not altogether satisfactory.
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  25. Robin Hanson, Drift–Diffusion in Mangled Worlds Quantum Mechanics.
    In Everett’s many-worlds interpretation, where quantum measurements are seen as decoherence events, inexact decoherence may let large worlds mangle the memories of observers in small worlds, creating a cutoff in observable world measure. I solve a growth–drift–diffusion–absorption model of such a mangled worlds scenario, and show that it reproduces the Born probability rule closely, though not exactly. Thus, inexact decoherence may allow the Born rule to be derived in a many-worlds approach via world counting, using a finite number of worlds (...)
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  26. Robin Hanson, Dreams of Autarky.
    Genie nanotech, space colonies, Turing-test A.I., a local singularity, crypto credentials, and private law are all dreams of a future where some parts of the world economy and society have an unusually low level of dependence on the rest of the world. But it is the worldwide division of labor that has made us humans rich, and I suspect we won't let it go for a long time to come.
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  27. Robin Hanson, Even Adversarial Agents Should Appear to Agree.
    Descriptors: coordination, autonomy, actions, beliefs Abstract Distributing authority among autonomous agents can induce inconsistency costs if the agents act as if they disagree. If we define an agent’s “marginal beliefs” to be the odds at which it is willing to make bets, we find that a betting market can induce agents to act as if they almost agree, not only with respect to the bets they offer but also other actions they take. In a particular “Mars mining” scenario, I explicitly (...)
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  28. Robin Hanson, Economic Growth Given Machine Intelligence.
    A simple exogenous growth model gives conservative estimates of the economic implications of machine intelligence. Machines complement human labor when they become more productive at the jobs they perform, but machines also substitute for human labor by taking over human jobs. At first, expensive hardware and software does only the few jobs where computers have the strongest advantage over humans. Eventually, computers do most jobs. At first, complementary effects dominate, and human wages rise with computer productivity. But eventually substitution can (...)
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  29. Robin Hanson, Eliciting Objective Probabilities Via Lottery Insurance Games.
    Since utilities and probabilities jointly determine choices, event-dependent utilities complicate the elicitation of subjective event probabilities. However, for the usual purpose of obtaining the information embodied in agent beliefs, it is sufficient to elicit objective probabilities, i.e., probabilities obtained by updating a known common prior with that agent’s further information. Bayesians who play a Nash equilibrium of a certain insurance game before they obtain relevant information will afterward act regarding lottery ticket payments as if they had event-independent risk-neutral utility and (...)
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  30. Robin Hanson, Fear of Death and Muddled Thinking – It Is So Much Worse Than You Think.
    Humans clearly have trouble thinking about death. This trouble is often used to explain behavior like delay in writing wills or buying life insurance, or interest in odd medical and religious beliefs. But the problem is far worse than most people imagine. Fear of death makes us spend fifteen percent of our income on medicine, from which we get little or no health benefit, while we neglect things like exercise, which offer large health benefits.
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  31. Robin Hanson, Has Penrose Disproved A.I.?
    Being read is not the same as being believed. Most reviewers have praised the book as original, well-written, thought-provoking, etc., and then gone on to take issue with one or more of Penrose's main theses. Penrose seems unfamiliar with the existing literature in cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and AI. The handful of reviewers who agree with Penrose don't seem to have paid much attention to his specific arguments - they always thought AI was bogus. See, for example, the 37 (...)
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  32. Robin Hanson, He Who Pays The Piper Must Know The Tune.
    He who pays the piper calls the tune, but he can only succesfully call for a tune that he will recognize upon hearing. Previous models, of two candidates impressing a voter and of firm managers impressing stock speculators, found experts ignoring costly superior information in favor of client preconceptions. Similar result hold when we greatly generalize the agents, choices, information structures, and preferences. When experts must pay to acquire information, have no intrinsic interest in client topics, and can coordinate to (...)
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  33. Robin Hanson, Information Aggregation and Manipulation in an Experimental Market.
    Prediction markets are increasingly being considered as methods for gathering, summarizing and aggregating diffuse information by governments and businesses alike. Critics worry that these markets are susceptible to price manipulation by agents who wish to distort decision making. We study the effect of manipulators on an experimental market, and find that manipulators are unable to distort price accuracy. Subjects without manipulation incentives compensate for the bias in offers from manipulators by setting a different threshold at which they are willing to (...)
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  34. Robin Hanson, Is a Singularity Just Around the Corner?
    Economic growth is determined by the supply and demand of investment capital; technology determines the demand for capital, while human nature determines the supply. The supply curve has two distinct parts, giving the world economy two distinct modes. In the familiar slow growth mode, rates of return are limited by human discount rates. In the fast growth mode, investment is limited by the world's wealth. Historical trends suggest that we may transition to the fast mode in roughly another century and (...)
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  35. Robin Hanson, Is Fairness About Clear Fitness Signals?
    Even outside of games, a wide range of otherwise puzzling common intuitions about fairness can be understood if the fundamental "game" of life is seen as wooing, i.e., attracting mates by showing that you have fit genes. The fairest social institutions are then those in which success correlates as much as possible with genetic fitness.
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  36. Robin Hanson, Isagreement is Unpredictable.
    Given common priors, no agent can publicly estimate a non-zero sign for the difference between his estimate and another agent’s future estimate. Thus rational agents cannot publicly anticipate the direction in which other agents will disagree with them.  2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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  37. Robin Hanson, Letter By.
    "Reading the Future" featured thoughtful and piquant articles by intelligent, knowledgeable, and articulate authors. Still, one cannot help noting that the authors who specialize in future studies were careful not to make any predictions, while the others, knowing that a methodological review of their accuracy is unlikely, made dramatic, thought-provoking predictions that center on current concerns.
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  38. Robin Hanson, Location Discrimination in Circular City, Torus Town, and Beyond.
    Salop’s “Circular City” model of spatial competition is generalized to higher dimensions, and to “transportation” costs which are a power of distance. Assuming free entry, mill pricing is compared to location-based price discrimination. For dimensions above one, there is some too little entry below some cutoff power, and too much entry above it. This cutoff cost-power rises with dimension, and is larger under price discrimination. Mill pricing induces more entry for powers of four or less, and less entry for powers (...)
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  39. Robin Hanson, LHC Forecasts: Better Than Horoscopes?
    My horoscope today says, “Focus on the small stuff.” Now, such advice does have content. It predicts that when readers interpret its words in the usual way as a guide to action, those who do what they think it recommends will, on average, feel they got more of what they wanted than those who ignored it. Even so, astrologers sure don’t make it easy for us to test their claims. If they wanted to make it easier, they would do what (...)
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  40. Robin Hanson, Long-Term Growth As A Sequence of Exponential Modes.
    A world product time series covering two million years is well fit by either a sum of four exponentials, or a constant elasticity of substitution (CES) combination of three exponential growth modes: “hunting,” “farming,” and “industry.” The CES parameters suggest that farming substituted for hunting, while industry complemented farming, making the industrial revolution a smoother transition. Each mode grew world product by a factor of a few hundred, and grew a hundred times faster than its predecessor. This weakly suggests that (...)
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  41. Robin Hanson, Let Go of the Medical Monkey Trap.
    It is said you can trap a monkey by putting a nut through a small hole in a gourd. The monkey reaches in and grabs the nut, but then his fist won’t fit back through the hole. Greedy monkeys will literally let themselves be caught rather than let go of the nut. So far, no commenter on my essay seems willing to let go of the nut of effective medicine, held in the gourd of the second half of medical spending.
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  42. Robin Hanson, Logarithmic Market Scoring Rules for Modular Combinatorial Information Aggregation.
    In practice, scoring rules elicit good probability estimates from individuals, while betting markets elicit good consensus estimates from groups. Market scoring rules combine these features, eliciting estimates from individuals or groups, with groups costing no more than individuals. Regarding a bet on one event given another event, only logarithmic versions preserve the probability of the given event. Logarithmic versions also preserve the conditional probabilities of other events, and so preserve conditional independence relations. Given logarithmic rules that elicit relative probabilities of (...)
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  43. Robin Hanson, Must Early Life Be Easy? The Rhythm of Major Evolutionary Transitions.
    If we are not to conclude that most planets like Earth have evolved life as intelligent as we are, we must presume Earth is not random. This selection effect, however, also implies that the origin of life need not be as easy as the early appearance of life on Earth suggests. If a series of major evolutionary transitions were required to produce intelligent life, selection implies that a subset of these were “critical steps,” with durations that are similarly distributed. The (...)
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  44. Robin Hanson, Making Sense of Medical Paternalism.
    Why do we regulate the substances we can ingest, the advisors we can hear, and the products we can buy far more than similarly-important non-health choices? I review many possible arguments for such paternalistic policies, as well many possible holes in such arguments. I argue we should either be clearer about what justifies our paternalism, or we should back off and be less paternalistic.
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  45. Robin Hanson, On My Mind You're Fired! 10.30.06, 12:00 AM ET.
    Why are boards so slow to fire the chief? One reason is that they don't have enough skin in the game. They own few shares and therefore don't feel obligated to protect their investment from an out-of-touch boss. Besides, most of them owe their cushy jobs to the chief executive.
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  46. Robin Hanson, On Market Maker Functions.
    Since market scoring rules have become popular as a form of market maker, it seems worth reviewing just what such mechanisms are intended to do. The main function performed by most market makers is to serve as an intermediary between people who prefer to trade at different times. Traders who have the same favorite times to trade can show up together to an ordinary continuous double auction, and then make and accept offers to trade. But when traders have different favorite (...)
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  47. Robin Hanson, On Voter Incentives To Become Informed.
    Before an election, two candidates choose policies which are lotteries over electionday distributive positions. I find conditions under which there exist mixed-strategy probabilistic-voting equilibria which are independent, treating voter groups independently.
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  48. Robin Hanson, Reply to Comments on Could Gambling Save Science?
    Arthur Diamond comments that "it is not clear how a donor distributes money through Hanson's market". Let me try again to be clear. Imagine David Levy were to seek funding for the regression he suggests in his comments, on the relative impact of sports versus science spending on aggregate productivity. Consider what might happen under three different funding institutions.
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  49. Robin Hanson, Shared Secrets Come Cheap.
    Imagine two people share a secret which would hurt them each $1000 worth if it got out. You offer to pay them each $1 to (verifiably) tell you their secret. If this is a one-shot simultaneous game, there are two pure-strategy equilibria: one where they both tell and another where neither of them tell. But since the no-tell equilibria makes them both better off, your chances aren’t good.
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  50. Robin Hanson, Super-Resolved Surface Reconstruction From Multiple Images.
    This paper describes a Bayesian method for constructing a super-resolved surface model by combining information from a set of images of the given surface. We develop the theory and algorithms in detail for the 2-D reconstruction problem, appropriate for the case where all images are taken from roughly the same direction and under similar lighting conditions. We show the results of this 2-D reconstruction on Viking Martian data. These results show dramatic improvements in both spatial and gray-scale resolution. The Bayesian (...)
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