New York University professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita has developed a computer model that can forecast the outcomes of international conflicts, and the U.S. Defense Department has found the model very useful. De Mesquita says the model begins by assuming that everyone is interested in two dimensions on any policy issue — getting the outcome as close to what they desire as possible, and getting credited as playing an essential role in reaching or thwarting an agreement. "The model estimates the way in which individual decision-makers trade off between credit and policy outcomes," he notes.
De Mesquita says the model has been generally welcomed by people more oriented toward quantitative modeling, while those who tend to focus on area studies or historical case study analysis have been less receptive. "The problems I look at with my model typically involve many dozens of players, sometimes more than 200," he says. "There is no way to construct biased data to produce a desired outcome except to make the data appear transparently wrong to anyone looking at the data."
The model is founded on game theory, and De Mesquita points out that advances in computing power have made this kind of modeling unrestrained by memory or processing limitations.
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