What do mathematicians play? St Petersburg University hosts International Conference on Game Theory and Management


In keeping with tradition, the organisers of this important academic conference in the field of game theory in Russia were the following: the Graduate School of Management and the Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Control Processes of St Petersburg University; and the Russian Chapter of the International Society of Dynamic Games (ISDG). In all, 85 presentations from 148 authors were submitted for participation in the conference. The programme committee selected the 80 most interesting works, and the authors of 77 of them actually took part in the conference, including 29 foreign participants.

This year’s conference featured five leading experts in the field of game theory and its use in management: Professor David Yeung (Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong); Professor Mabel Tidball (The National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment, France); Professors Alexander Tarasyev and Vladimir Ushakov (The Krasovskii Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yekaterinburg, Russia); and Professor Andrey Leonidov (The Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia).

‘Game Theory and Management is the one and only annual international conference on game theory and the applications of games in management in Russia. Such major academic events usually take place less often, once every four years, but for sixteen years now we have been packing them in year after year at both plenary and breakout sessions,’ noted Professor Leon Petrosyan, Head of the Department of Mathematical Game Theory and Statistical Decisions and Dean of the Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Control Processes at St Petersburg University. ‘Interest traditionally runs high, and eminent scholars and young people as well are fully involved.’

Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics concerned with decision-making models under conditions of conflict between parties. Conflict is regarded as any interaction between two or more participants, traditionally called players, each of whom makes decisions in pursuit of their own interests.

‘An important feature of this conference is that there is a practical orientation to any discussion of the results of theoretical research,’ said Associate Professor Nikolai Zenkevich, Head of the Department of Operations Management at St Petersburg University. ‘The major questions in game theory are the following: What is the mathematical model of the conflict under investigation (which game)? What should be understood as the optimal behaviour of the participants (what is the principle of optimality)? How can the optimal solution be set up (chosen)? And under what conditions will the participants in the conflict put optimal behaviour into practice? Game theory is applied in economics, management, bionomics, public health service, military science, and in various other fields of knowledge and human activity. To apply it successfully, though, you need to know the conceptual foundations of the theory and have the appropriate mathematical background in order to understand it.’

As an example of one application, in her breakout session report Natalia Nikitina, Senior Research Associate at the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, presented a study on the optimisation of transport systems in Petrozavodsk. ‘In game theory, players can act selfishly and work out solutions to each of their own problems, or they can act collectively. This is also of great relevance when it comes to traffic problems: if every motorist chooses an itinerary that suits their own needs, it might seriously overburden some public thoroughfare and in so doing put a strain on public transport in the whole city. Game theory makes it possible to deal with such problems and can, in fact, be used in navigator systems, which offer alternative routes that are advantageous to everyone on the road. A navigator can direct one driver to take one route and another driver, a different one.’

It is not all that easy to find a way to apply the results of research in practice. If only because it involves negotiation between people from different fields. But game theory is an important tool for the analysis of opinions and of social and economic processes.

Alexander Vasin, Professor in the Department of Operations Research, Moscow State University

‘Let me provide an example. I recently spoke on research at an industry seminar organised by the Electricity Market Council as I had been given consent to continue research on energy storage devices. We now pay less for electricity used at night than during the daytime, and different kinds of storage devices have come onto the market, for example accumulator batteries. Imagine that you own a business, and you have rather high electricity expenses. To reduce them, you begin to charge your accumulator batteries at night, at a lower cost. The question then arises: Which batteries would it be more profitable for you to buy? When you are faced with such questions, precise calculations provide interesting results and make it possible to raise the twin issues of what would be best for the market as a whole and what you can recommend for different categories of consumers,’ explained Alexander Vasin, Professor in the Department of Operations Research at Moscow State University.

After GTM2023 was successfully brought to a close, a decision was made to organise and hold the 17th International Conference on Game Theory and Management (GTM2024). It will take place at St Petersburg University from 26 to 28 June 2024 and will be dedicated to the University’s 300th anniversary. This decision has already been approved by the international programme committee of GTM2024.

Associate Professor Alexander Nesterov, Head of the International Laboratory of Game Theory and Decision Making at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in St Petersburg, presented a report on the impact of current technologies in the sphere of dating. It turns out that even such aspects of our social life can be successfully explored with the help of game theory. ‘I study the dating market and what has been happening on it in recent years. There are now more and more people who find themselves a mate later on in life or not at all. Current information technologies have significantly increased a person’s opportunities to find a partner. But that’s only at first glance, since, on the other hand, these technologies have also increased the competition. So, it seems to be easier to find a partner if you want to start up a family, but, at the same time, it is much more difficult to be the most suitable partner. Game theory gives us a concept for solving this problem. Let’s say that there are many women and many men, and they are acquainted with each other. The question is who will form a couple with whom? We are looking at a situation in which every one of them has found an acceptable mate, someone they would rather be with than remain alone, and we don’t have any men or women who don’t pair up. Now we can analyse whether we like this or not. As we reduce the cost of the search and increase the number of potential partners, we are less and less satisfied with the result. It will take much further research, and theorists have not yet come up with an acceptable solution, but the information itself is important. Game theory is also invaluable because it gives authentic answers to questions that are very important for society.’

Altogether, 67 breakout and 5 plenary papers were presented at the conference. Russian participants represented 10 cities and 16 major universities in the country. Foreign specialists came from China, Uzbekistan, France, the USA, Senegal, Italy, and Indonesia.

Su Shimai from China is studying mathematics at St Petersburg University and feels that such high-level conferences are very beneficial. This is because they provide an opportunity to share experience with colleagues and learn about recent developments. ‘Game theory is a very interesting field that can be put into practice in international environmental agreements. Developing countries are now urging developed countries to work with them. They have their own strategies, but they have neither the financial clout nor the technologies that the developed countries have. They need to devise technologies to develop green energy or come up with the money to buy them. More than a hundred countries in the world find themselves in such a position, and that is a big coalition. In establishing strategies for cooperation between developed and developing countries, we have to take into account that developed countries may not be satisfied with the financial component and may withdraw from cooperating with developing countries. To deal with the practical problems involved in organising such cooperation, we apply game theory.’

This conference, Game Theory and Management, is unique in that experts from game theory and dynamic games take part in it. It is thus supported by both international societies: the International Society of Game Theory and the International Society of Dynamic Games.


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