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Chaos. 2001 Sep;11(3):705-714.

Brownian ratchets and Parrondo's games.

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Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Centre for Biomedical Engineering, Adelaide University, SA 5005, Australia.


Parrondo's games present an apparently paradoxical situation where individually losing games can be combined to win. In this article we analyze the case of two coin tossing games. Game B is played with two biased coins and has state-dependent rules based on the player's current capital. Game B can exhibit detailed balance or even negative drift (i.e., loss), depending on the chosen parameters. Game A is played with a single biased coin that produces a loss or negative drift in capital. However, a winning expectation is achieved by randomly mixing A and B. One possible interpretation pictures game A as a source of "noise" that is rectified by game B to produce overall positive drift-as in a Brownian ratchet. Game B has a state-dependent rule that favors a losing coin, but when this state dependence is broken up by the noise introduced by game A, a winning coin is favored. In this article we find the parameter space in which the paradoxical effect occurs and carry out a winning rate analysis. The significance of Parrondo's games is that they are physically motivated and were originally derived by considering a Brownian ratchet-the combination of the games can be therefore considered as a discrete-time Brownian ratchet. We postulate the use of games of this type as a toy model for a number of physical and biological processes and raise a number of open questions for future research.


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