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Regular version of the site

Fuad Aleskerov Turns 70

Excerpts from the HSE Distinguished Professor’s interviews

On January 23, Fuad Aleskerov, Distinguished Professor of HSE, and Head of the Department of Mathematics at the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences, celebrated his 70th anniversary. Prof Aleskerov is a  world renowned expert in decision-making; he is often  invited to talk at leading universities around the world, and the International Centre of Decision Choice and Analysis which he created at HSE University has become a major research cluster. HSE University Life sends our congratulations to the hero of the day and publishes some excerpts from his interviews given over the last few years.

‘I Applied the Balanced Graph Theory to Analyse Macbeth

…I was not admitted to the MSU doctoral programme, although I passed all the exams with excellent grades. And then, I came to Mark Aizerman at the Institute of Administration. He was an outstanding scholar, a very smart and impressive person. He suggested a choice of two topics to me. One of them was about optimal control. And the second one was only starting to be discussed in the country in those days.  It was choice theory, and it was then that I first heard that human behaviour can also be modelled. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of using maths in such problems before.

…When I got to know the balanced graph theory, I immediately used it to analyse Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I had always had a feeling that this play was different from his other plays. This analysis proved that its graphs (by acts) look different from those for Hamlet or Twelfth Night. This has even been mentioned in one of our textbooks.

Of course, mathematics can’t replace philology, but it is a different perspective, a new outlook on the world, and I keep saying to my students: don’t sit in your dens, come out and look around – the world is beautiful!

Stimul journal, September 21, 2020

‘Russia Has a Lot to Offer in This Science’

The science of decision-making was not born in Russia. The founder of modern decision-making theory was the philosopher, mathematician and politician Marquis de Condorcet. Participant of the Great French Revolution, in 1785 he was the first to mathematically prove that the rule of the simple majority may not work in elections with three or more candidates. Attempts to find effective collective choice procedures had been made before, in the Middle Ages, but the ‘Condorcet’s paradox’ put this search in an academic context. After that, researchers spent two centuries trying to solve this paradox, to invent the rules of collective decision that would correctly reflect the majority’s interests. It was only in the 20th century that Kenneth Arrow, an outstanding economist, put an end to this search: Arrow’s impossibility theorem proved that no collective choice procedure can optimally reflect the individual preferences of voters. Thanks to this scholar, we know that democratic elections are possible and necessary, but it is not always possible to correctly determine the winner in democratic elections.

Decision-making theory experienced a flowering in Russia in the 20th century. The key figures were from the Trapeznikov Institute of Administration (Russian Academy of Sciences). In the early 1970s, this topic was developed by the academician Stanislav Emelyanov and Prof. Mark Aizerman. A huge contribution to this field was made by Oleg Larichev, Prof. Vladimir Podinovsky, Prof. Boris Mirkin, Prof. Andrey Malishevsky, Prof. Alexander Orlov and many other colleagues.

I was Prof. Aizerman’s students: he was my academic supervisor at the Institute of Administration, and since 1989, I have headed a laboratory there, which is today named after him.

My colleagues and I participate in many international forums on decision-making theory and teach at leading universities. I, for example, have delivered lectures and talked at workshops at Harvard, Stanford, the London School of Economics, Sorbonne and many other renowned institutions.

The International Centre of Decision Choice and Analysis, which we created as part of HSE University, is a very serious project, and I am truly proud of it. Such a centre could be part of any high-level university today. Russia has a lot to offer in this science, and this is exactly what we need to do.

HSE blog on vc.ru, January 19, 2021

The Question: ‘What Can Be Good in a New Era of Stagnation?’

The Question: What can be good in a new Era of Stagnation?’

Fuad Aleskerov: I believe, nothing can be good about a new Era of Stagnation, as well as the immediate aftermath of such an era. We have survived Brezhnev’s ‘stagnation’ and know what it led to. Attempts to pretend to be a ‘non-stagnating’ country on the international scene led to the war in Afghanistan.

Economics is like sports. If someone stops training for several years, they can’t expect to grow muscle overnight and become world champion. Any stagnation is a step backwards. That’s why we have to do everything in order not to slide back into the period we experienced in the 1970s, and try to develop the country.

For example, one of today’s attempts to ‘stagnate’ is that huge public resources are spent on creating independent software, text editors that are independent from the West, etc. Instead of being in tune with the times, we are spending huge resources on something that could never help make our country a leader.

Furthermore, in today’s ‘stagnation era’, public costs on education are being cut. This risks completely losing any opportunity to be among the leading countries in 10 or 15 years. We’ll simply become a ‘third-world’ country, shaken by uneasiness and catastrophe.

Russia does not deserve this.

The Question, October 2016

'During a Meltdown, Just Relax'

If you keep preparing for a negative event to happen, be it a financial meltdown or your water being cut-off, you’ll find yourself in an asylum in a couple of weeks. I started thinking about it when I was reading Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, which was published during the previous crisis, in 2009… The main idea of Taleb’s book is that we should live in permanent expectation of a crisis (later, he wrote two more books on about the same topic, in which he expresses himself in a less peremptory manner).

One of Taleb’s arguments was a criticism of classical economic models by Smith, Keynes and Samuelson. According to him, these economics theoreticians describe a kind of ‘ideal world’ model, and during a crisis, all their theories become useless, can’t explain the things that are happening or predict the situation.

I felt hurt for the economists, particularly for Samuelson, whom I used to know in person. And I generally respect modelling of socio-economic events. I believe it is even more interesting than modelling in physics, where all the basic conditions are more or less constant. In society, everything changes very fast, and good models are really needed to understand and forecast the processes. I’ll quote Oskar Meyer: ‘Nothing is as practical as a good theory’.

I built a theory and used a mathematical model to prove that it is much more useful to forecast a ‘normal’, moderate scenario – then, you’ll almost always end up with a gain.

Slon.ru. April 10, 2015

January 23, 2021