Adversarial Dynamics in Centralized Versus Decentralized Intelligent Systems

Levin Brinkmann, Manuel Cebrian, Niccolò Pescetelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Artificial intelligence (AI) is often used to predict human behavior, thus potentially posing limitations to individuals’ and collectives’ freedom to act. AI's most controversial and contested applications range from targeted advertisements to crime prevention, including the suppression of civil disorder. Scholars and civil society watchdogs are discussing the oppressive dangers of AI being used by centralized institutions, like governments or private corporations. Some suggest that AI gives asymmetrical power to governments, compared to their citizens. On the other hand, civil protests often rely on distributed networks of activists without centralized leadership or planning. Civil protests create an adversarial tension between centralized and decentralized intelligence, opening the question of how distributed human networks can collectively adapt and outperform a hostile centralized AI trying to anticipate and control their activities. This paper leverages multi-agent reinforcement learning to simulate dynamics within a human–machine hybrid society. We ask how decentralized intelligent agents can collectively adapt when competing with a centralized predictive algorithm, wherein prediction involves suppressing coordination. In particular, we investigate an adversarial game between a collective of individual learners and a central predictive algorithm, each trained through deep Q-learning. We compare different predictive architectures and showcase conditions in which the adversarial nature of this dynamic pushes each intelligence to increase its behavioral complexity to outperform its counterpart. We further show that a shared predictive algorithm drives decentralized agents to align their behavior. This work sheds light on the totalitarian danger posed by AI and provides evidence that decentrally organized humans can overcome its risks by developing increasingly complex coordination strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Autocurriculum
  • Collective intelligence
  • Coordination games
  • Decentralized intelligence
  • Multi-agent reinforcement learning
  • Predictive algorithms


Dive into the research topics of 'Adversarial Dynamics in Centralized Versus Decentralized Intelligent Systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this