Letter

Locally noisy autonomous agents improve global human coordination in network experiments

  • Nature volume 545, pages 370374 (18 May 2017)
  • doi:10.1038/nature22332
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Abstract

Coordination in groups faces a sub-optimization problem1,2,3,4,5,6 and theory suggests that some randomness may help to achieve global optima7,8,9. Here we performed experiments involving a networked colour coordination game10 in which groups of humans interacted with autonomous software agents (known as bots). Subjects (n = 4,000) were embedded in networks (n = 230) of 20 nodes, to which we sometimes added 3 bots. The bots were programmed with varying levels of behavioural randomness and different geodesic locations. We show that bots acting with small levels of random noise and placed in central locations meaningfully improve the collective performance of human groups, accelerating the median solution time by 55.6%. This is especially the case when the coordination problem is hard. Behavioural randomness worked not only by making the task of humans to whom the bots were connected easier, but also by affecting the gameplay of the humans among themselves and hence creating further cascades of benefit in global coordination in these heterogeneous systems.

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Allison, F. Fu, M. Kearns, G. Kraft-Todd, A. Oswald, D. Rand and D. Spielman for comments. M. McKnight provided technical support and programming for our Breadboard platform. Support for this research was provided by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institute of Social Sciences, and the National Institutes of Health (P30-AG034420).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Yale Institute for Network Science, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Hirokazu Shirado
    •  & Nicholas A. Christakis
  2. Department of Sociology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Hirokazu Shirado
    •  & Nicholas A. Christakis
  3. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Nicholas A. Christakis
  4. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA

    • Nicholas A. Christakis

Authors

  1. Search for Hirokazu Shirado in:

  2. Search for Nicholas A. Christakis in:

Contributions

H.S. and N.A.C. designed the project. H.S. collected the data and performed the statistical calculations. H.S. and N.A.C. analysed the results. H.S. and N.A.C. wrote the manuscript. N.A.C. obtained funding.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nicholas A. Christakis.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks C. A. Hidalgo, I. D. Couzin, C. F. Camerer and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Methods and additional references.

Videos

  1. 1.

    An example of the colour coordination game with all human subjects

    Each node’s colour shows the colour choice made by assigned human subjects at the time. Wide red edges show that the connected players are in the same colour (“colour conflicts”). Figure 1a shows the structure snapshots of the session.

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