RIP John Nash

John-Nash.jpg

John Forbes Nash Jr., the genius who formulated the concept of the Nash Equilibrium which is so central to game theory, died yesterday in a car crash in New Jersey:
The Princeton math genius whose life story was the subject of the film “A Beautiful Mind” died Saturday in a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. 
John Forbes Nash Jr. was killed in the 4:30 p.m. crash, along with his wife of nearly 60 years, state police said Sunday.

The crash happened in the southbound inner lanes of the highway.

Nash was 86. Alicia Nash was 82.

The couple were in a taxi that crashed with another vehicle.
[...]
The paper said the driver of the taxi, a Ford Crown Victoria, lost control as he tried to pass a Chrysler in the center lane and crashed into a guard rail. 
The Nashes were ejected from the car, a state police spokesman told the Newark Star-Ledger.
The person in the Chrysler was transported to a hospital and was expected to survive. 
Known as brilliant and eccentric, Nash was associated with Princeton University for many years, most recently serving as a senior research mathematician. He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 for his work in game theory, which offered insight into the dynamics of human rivalry. It is considered one of the most influential ideas of the 20th century.
I've studied a bit of game theory in my time- actually, next to linear algebra and differential calculus, it was probably my favourite mathematical sub-discipline. There is an elegant simplicity to game theory in general, and to the Nash Equilibrium in particular, that makes it a remarkably interesting field of study.

And unlike quite a lot of the more esoteric parts of mathematics, game theory is highly applicable in real life.

A case in point would be the auction of 3G licenses to various UK telecommunications companies by the British government in 2000. The entire auction process was essentially designed from the ground up by game theorists- the most prominent of whom was a chap named Dr. Kenneth Binmore.

The auction ended up generating something like GBP 22 billion for the government, because it was designed with the specific intent of using powerful mathematical ideas to accurately model human behaviour.

None of that would have been possible without John Nash. And now he's gone, leaving behind a void that will be rather difficult to fill.

I've had the privilege to study under people who have been his students and associates. From what they say, John Nash was every bit the eccentric genius that he known as being in popular culture. But that doesn't change his immense impact upon multiple disciplines within mathematics, economics, and the social sciences.

Prof. Nash was hugely influential in the worlds of mathematics and economics. He also happened to be a complete f***ing nutball for a while. But then, insanity and genius do seem to be mirror images of each other.

Clear skies, Prof. Nash.

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