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Robert Aumann
Aumann in 2015
Robert John Aumann

(1930-06-08) 8 June 1930 (age 94)
Frankfurt, Hesse-Nassau, Prussia
Nationality Israeli, American
Institution Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Stony Brook University
Field Mathematical economics
Game theory
George Whitehead, Jr.
David Schmeidler
Sergiu Hart
Abraham Neyman
Yair Tauman
Awards Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics
John von Neumann Theory Prize
Harvey Prize in Science and Technology
Israel Prize for Economical Research
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Robert John Aumann (Hebrew name: ישראל אומן, Yisrael Aumann; born June 8, 1930) is an Israeli-American mathematician, and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences. He is a professor at the Center for the Study of Rationality in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He also holds a visiting position at Stony Brook University, and is one of the founding members of the Stony Brook Center for Game Theory.

Aumann received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2005 for his work on conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis. He shared the prize with Thomas Schelling.

Early life and education

Aumann was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and fled to the United States with his family in 1938, two weeks before the Kristallnacht pogrom. He attended the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, a yeshiva high school in New York City.

Aumann graduated from the City College of New York in 1950 with a B.S. in mathematics. He received his M.S. in 1952, and his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1955, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His doctoral dissertation, Asphericity of Alternating Linkages, concerned knot theory. His advisor was George Whitehead, Jr.

Academic career

In 1956 he joined the Mathematics faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has been a visiting professor at Stony Brook University since 1989. He has held visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley (1971, 1985–1986), Stanford University (1975–1976, 1980–1981), and Universite Catholique de Louvain (1972, 1978, 1984).

Mathematical and scientific contribution

Flickr - Government Press Office (GPO) - Nobel Laureate Yisrael Aumann
Aumann in 2005

Aumann's greatest contribution was in the realm of repeated games, which are situations in which players encounter the same situation over and over again.

Aumann was the first to define the concept of correlated equilibrium in game theory, which is a type of equilibrium in non-cooperative games that is more flexible than the classical Nash equilibrium. Furthermore, Aumann has introduced the first purely formal account of the notion of common knowledge in game theory. He collaborated with Lloyd Shapley on the Aumann–Shapley value. He is also known for Aumann's agreement theorem, in which he argues that under his given conditions, two Bayesian rationalists with common prior beliefs cannot agree to disagree.

Aumann and Maschler used game theory to analyze Talmudic dilemmas. They were able to solve the mystery about the "division problem", a long-standing dilemma of explaining the Talmudic rationale in dividing the heritage of a late husband to his three wives depending on the worth of the heritage compared to its original worth. The article in that matter was dedicated to a son of Aumann, Shlomo, who was killed during the 1982 Lebanon War, while serving as a tank gunner in the Israel Defense Forces's armored corps.

Aumann's Ph.D. students include David Schmeidler, Sergiu Hart, Abraham Neyman, and Yair Tauman.

Political views

These are some of the themes of Aumann's Nobel lecture, named "War and Peace":

  1. War is not irrational, but must be scientifically studied in order to be understood, and eventually conquered;
  2. Repeated game study de-emphasizes the "now" for the sake of the "later";
  3. Simplistic peacemaking can cause war, while an arms race, credible war threats and mutually assured destruction can reliably prevent war.

Aumann is a member of Professors for a Strong Israel (PSI), a right-wing political group. Aumann opposed the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 claiming that it was a crime against Gush Katif settlers and a serious threat to the security of Israel. Aumann drew on a case in game theory called the Blackmailer Paradox to argue that giving land to the Arabs is strategically foolish based on the mathematical theory. By presenting an unyielding demand, he claims that the Arab states will force Israel to "yield to blackmail due to the perception that it will leave the negotiating room with nothing if it is inflexible".

As a result of his political views, and his use of his research to justify them, the decision to give him the Nobel prize was criticized in the European press. A petition to cancel his prize garnered signatures from 1,000 academics worldwide.

In a speech to the religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva, Aumann got that Israel is in "deep trouble" due to his belief that anti-Zionist Satmar Jews might have been right in their condemnation of the original Zionist movement. "I fear the Satmars were right", he said, and quoted a verse from Psalm 127: "Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders toil on it in vain." Aumann feels that the historical Zionist establishment failed to transmit its message to its successors, because it was secular. The only way that Zionism can survive, according to Aumann, is if it has a religious basis.

In 2008, Aumann joined the Ahi political party, which was led at the time by Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levy.

Personal life

Aumann married Esther Schlesinger in April 1955 in Brooklyn. They had met in 1953, when Esther, who was from Israel, was visiting the United States. The couple had five children; the oldest, Shlomo, a student in Yeshivat Shaalvim, was killed in action while serving as a tank gunner in the Israel Defense Forces's armored corps in the 1982 Lebanon War. Machon Shlomo Aumann, an institute affiliated with Shaalvim that republishes old manuscripts of Jewish legal texts, was named after him. Esther died of ovarian cancer in October 1998. In late November 2005, Aumann married Esther's widowed sister, Batya Cohn.

Aumann is a cousin of the late Oliver Sacks.

Honours and awards

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Robert Aumann para niños

  • List of Israel Prize recipients
  • List of Israeli Nobel laureates
  • List of Jewish Nobel laureates
  • List of economists
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