IT’S STARTING TO ADD UP: Math partners with mediation to resolve disputes online

Math works with mediation to create fair resolutions The premise of Numb3rs, CBS‘s hot new TV police drama, is that crimes can be cracked through the use of mathematics. In each episode viewers get to see math whiz Charlie Eppes (played by actor David Krumholtz) assist his FBI agent big brother Don (Rob Morrow) bring bad guys to justice through the creation of mathematical formulas and algorithms.

Improbable, you say? Whether algorithms have real-life applications in crime busting is a question that some other blogger will have to answer. However, as it turns out algorithms very much have a place in conflict busting.

One of the challenges that people in conflict often face is how to divide things up so that afterwards no one feels envious of the share the other person ended up with (as anyone knows who has ever tried splitting a slice of cake for two six-year-olds). Mathemetician Francis Edward Su, determined to create a way to help people achieve fair divisions, has invented the Fair Division Calculator, “a java applet for interactive decision making” which uses algorithms “to find envy-free divisions of goods, burdens, or rent”. The Fair Division Calculator may ultimately be used as a part of a web-based system for group negotiation and decision-making. Be sure to try out the Fair Division Calculator to divide up a cake, split household chores, or allocate rent among roommates.

One organization which has developed a commercially successful Internet-based system for resolving disputes is SmartSettle, which uses “patented optimization algorithms to achieve fair and efficient solutions that are truly Beyond Win-Win®.” According to the web site, SmartSettle’s applications are far-reaching, capable of handling virtually every kind of dispute, including family, workplace, business mergers and acquisitions, community, government and international, and beyond.

If you’re interested in experiencing SmartSettle first hand, SmartSettle has extended an invitation to those attending Cyberweek 2005 to participate in an International eNegotiation Tournament which will utilize the SmartSettle system. Registration for the competition will be open until April 9, 2005. For more information, click here.

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