- John C. Harsanyi, winner of the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize
in Economic Sciences and a longtime professor at the University
of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business and its
Department of Economics, died of a heart attack at his home
in Berkeley on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
was 80 and had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in game theory, a
mathematical theory of human behavior in competitive situations
that has become a dominant tool for analyzing real-life conflicts
in business, management and international relations.
the award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences with
fellow game theorists Reinhard Selten of Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitaet
in Bonn, Germany, and John Nash of Princeton University.
an immigrant from communist Hungary, won the Nobel Prize,
he expressed hope that game theory would help public and private
institutions make better decisions. In the long run, he said,
he hoped this would lead to a higher standard of living and
to more peaceful and more cooperative political systems.
Harsanyi's life-long work probed the idea of rationality in
human affairs, and he was a scholar who cared deeply about
the human condition. We will miss him at Berkeley, where his
years of devoted teaching and his ground-breaking research
inspired us all," said Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl.
began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1964 as a visiting professor
in the business school. He became a full professor in 1965
and remained on the faculty of the Haas School of Business
until his retirement in 1990. Harsanyi accepted a joint appointment
on the economics faculty in 1966.
dedicated his life to employ the science of economics and
game theory for the betterment of the human race," said Haas
School Dean Laura Tyson. "He was a brilliant thinker, a gracious
man, and a gentle soul, ever concerned with the well-being
of others. We will all miss him dearly."
of John Harsanyi is a great loss to the economics profession
and to his many friends and colleagues on this campus," said
John Quigley, UC Berkeley professor of economics and former
chair of the department. "Harsanyi's work was instrumental
in making economic theory 'fit' the imperfect world in which
we live. His development of game theory showed how differences
in the information available to economic actors affected market
outcomes and economic welfare. His seminal works form the
basis for all modern analyses of industrial organization,
and they have real practical implications in business and
a gentle and shy man, but a bold and powerful intellectual
presence. We will miss his grace and charm."
uses mathematics to try to predict the outcome of games, such
as chess or poker, and is increasingly being applied to political
and economic conflict situations, including labor negotiations,
price wars, international political conflicts, and even federal
auctions, such as bandwidth auctions.
principal contributions to the field addressed the prediction
of outcomes in games or situations in which the players lack
complete information about each other or the rules of the
Harsanyi was asked to be one of 10 game theorists to advise
the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on its
negotiations with the Soviet Union. The team found that it
could not advise the U.S. negotiators effectively because
neither side knew much about the other - it was a game of
subsequently developed a systematic procedure to convert any
incomplete-information game into an equivalent complete-information
game containing random moves, thereby significantly expanding
the applicability of game theory to political and economic
conflicts. In the late 1960s, Harsanyi described this theory
in a three-part article, "Games with Incomplete Information
Played by Bayesian Players," which is now the basis for all
work on games with incomplete information.
was born on May 29, 1920, in Budapest, Hungary, as the son
of a Catholic pharmacist of Jewish descent and was educated
at the University of Budapest. His main interests were in
mathematics and philosophy, but because of the uncertain political
situation and the impending Nazi danger, Harsanyi opted to
obtain a degree in pharmacology so he could work in his father's
the Germans occupied Hungary, and Harsanyi, being of Jewish
descent, was drafted into a forced-labor unit near Budapest.
Shortly thereafter, the Nazis started deporting these laborers
to mines and concentration camps. Harsanyi narrowly escaped
deportation and found refuge with three friends at a Jesuit
monastery in Budapest.
war, Harsanyi earned a PhD in philosophy at the University
in Budapest where he later taught as an assistant professor
of sociology and also met his future wife, Anne. In 1948,
a Stalinist regime seized power in Hungary and became increasingly
intolerant of Harsanyi's liberal views. Eventually, he had
to resign from the university and return to work in his father's
on Harsanyi persisted and, in 1950, the family decided it
was too dangerous for him to remain in Hungary. Harsanyi and
his soon-to-be wife, Anne, escaped across the border to Austria,
and emigrated to Australia, as the waiting list of the Hungarian
immigration-quota to the United States was full. The couple
were married on January 2, 1951, three days after arriving
Harsanyi worked in factories during the day while earning
an MA in economics at the University of Sydney at night. In
1954, he was appointed lecturer in economics at the University
of Queensland in Brisbane.
soon realized he was too isolated in Australia to be effective
in his field. In 1956, he enrolled in the PhD program in economics
at Stanford University, writing his dissertation on game theory
under the guidance of the future Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow.
arriving at UC Berkeley in 1964, he taught economics at the
Australian National University in Canberra from 1958 to 1961
and at Wayne State University in Detroit from 1961 to 1963.
At Berkeley, he continued his path-breaking work in game theory
and also made important contributions to the fields of ethics,
social choice and welfare economics. Harsanyi was awarded
seven honorary doctorates by universities around the world.
Harsanyi is survived by his wife, Anne, of Berkeley, and son,
Tom, of Somerville, Mass.
was interviewed in Budapest after being awarded the Nobel
Prize, he said his family and his work were the most important
things in his life. He took frequent trips all over the world
with his family.
service for the campus community will be held at 4 p.m. on
Thursday, Aug. 31, in the Great Hall of UC Berkeley's Faculty
in John Harsanyi's memory may be sent to the Alzheimer's Association
of the Greater Bay Area, 2065 West El Camino Real, Mountain
View, CA 94042.