Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ideas about being selfish

In an ideal society, everyone is altruistic. By being altruistic, everyone helps each other and the result is a net gain with low deviation. In this society, many people are selfish. By attempting to get the best out of a system, there will be people whose gain is markedly higher than the average, and people whose gain have been negated by other people's attempt to gain, regardless of whether the attempt is successful or not. But the end result is a net loss throughout the system.

What I have just described is the state of today's routers(a device that forwards data packets between computer networks), but it is general enough to describe the state of other co-operative ventures such as file sharing, business, politics, travel etc... Much of today's routers are best described as 'selfish routers' - routers which attempt to take the shortest path.

The selfish router is like the selfish driver who wants to get home from work as fast as possible and hence takes the shortest/fastest route. However, as the network is not uniform, some roads become over-utilized while other are under-utilized, leading to congestion. In fact, the only drivers who get to reach home fast(gain) are those who left early, while the majority reach home slower(net loss) than they would without the congestion. As not everyone gets to head home from work early everyday, the people who gain are usually not the same everyday, yet everyone persists by taking the shortest/fastest route in their attempt to be the ones who reach home early, resulting in a net loss of traffic speed.

Today, file sharing is popular. Different p2p(peer-to-peer) networks exist: BitTorrent, Gnutella, FastTrack(kazaa), eDonkey. They all have anti-leeching technology: upload/download ratio and priority levels. This ensures that the system is not abused, but more importantly, it is to make the download speed as fast as possible, so that everyone benefits.

Kazaalite was a program which used the kazaa's fasttrack network to share files like kazaa. It is theoretically illegal as some kazaa hacking was probably done which violates the end-user agreement for using kazaa software. What this program does is to set your download priority level at the highest so that you can download things fast. This program when used by a few computer geeks can aid them in downloading things from kazaa fast. However, this is unethical as it is not fair to the other users who download things based on how much and fast they upload things, but I will mainly discuss this program and such from an academic point of view as opposed to a moral point of view. Without conducting a survey, I am unable to give exact numbers of users of kazaalite and kazaa but I will attempt to discuss the repercussions of using kazaalite.

Here goes:

  • Initially, kazaalite is released and those computer savvy geeks who are ever looking to circumvent rules and regulations will download this program.
    • These geeks can download stuff faster w00t!
    • At the expense of normal kazaa users
    • Normal kazaa users wont experience much decrease in speed
    • Bad karma generated
  • The number of kazaalite users increase due to spread by word of mouth or PM
    • More people can download stuff faster
    • At the expense of normal kazaa users
    • Normal kazaa users wont experience much decrease in speed
  • Now here comes the dilemma: should you spread word on this wonderful program?

If you do so then

    • Much more people can download
    • At the expense of normal kazaa users
    • You can win and influence friends
    • Who might chide you for taking such a long time to inform them of this gem
    • When everyone is using kazaalite……..
    • ……there wont be any increase in speed of download :(

So what’s the recommendation?

What I did is that should you find such gem, just tell a few selected good friends and swear them to secrecy, or at least let them know the implications of everyone using this. Well, I believe that this is the game theoretic solution.

The bottom line is that selfish things exist everywhere. Sometimes one has to be selfish, at other times selfless...but even selfless acts could actually be selfish manifestations of your brain's attempt to achieve the game theoretic solution. I for one do not know whether the life is evolved for the furtherance of the self or community. Neither have I complete reading Republic by Plato to gain an insight into justice.

Just don't be selfish, okay?

This post had been saved as draft for a very long time and I finally resolved to wrap it up today and post it. You may notice that towards the end of this essay the sentences do not really connect well. Erm...I couldn't be bothered towards the end. It is my first serious piece of essay on this blog. The quality of the ideas could have been a lot better had I did a lot more research. The writing could have been more elegantly done.

Please feel free to comment. Do you agree or disagree? Do you have anything to add? Don't be selfish and keep you comments to yourself!

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