Paul Milgrom was awoken by his advisor, joint winner and neighbor Robert Wilson, after he failed to answer the committee's phone calls

By Rachel DeSantis
October 13, 2020 01:56 PM
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If ever there’s a reason to be woken up by your neighbor at 2 a.m., winning a Nobel Prize certainly tops the list.

Paul Milgrom was fast asleep when he won on Monday morning — so his fellow winner, advisor and neighbor Robert Wilson took it upon himself to share the good news in an exchange that was captured on video.

“When Robert Wilson rang Paul Milgrom’s doorbell at 2:15 [Monday] morning, Milgrom’s wife, who’s in Stockholm, received a security-camera notification on her phone,” Stanford University wrote on Twitter. “She got to watch live as Wilson told Milgrom he’d won the #NobelPrize.”

In the clip, Wilson and his wife ring the doorbell of Milgrom’s Palo Alto home multiple times and try knocking, too, as they call for his partner.

“It’s Bob Wilson,” he says when Milgrom finally awakes. “You won the Nobel Prize, and so, they’re trying to reach you, but they cannot. They don’t seem to have a number for you.”

Milgrom, 72, seems lost for words, but musters a shocked “Wow” before Wilson’s wife jokes that he should finally pick up his phone.

“He had turned off both his landline and his cellphone, so I just came over,” Wilson, who is in his early 80s, told Stanford University in a video shared to Twitter. “They asked me, the Nobel people asked, that would I please go over and knock on his door.”

Milgrom and Wilson — who is the former’s PhD supervisor — together won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats.

Milgrom told the university that Wilson was the reason he’d become interested in auction theory in the first place, as he’d wanted Wilson to be his dissertation advisor, and had chosen a topic that interested him.

“We worked together to design the first U.S. radio spectrum auction, which is a novel design that became the basis for many other designs and billions of dollars of transactions around the world,” he explained. “And setting that up in a way that uses bidding is something that nobody knew how to do before.”

Paul Milgrom
| Credit: Stanford Graduate School of Business

Though the two work quite differently — Milgrom is more precise, while Wilson is more speculative and visual, they say — the two both share a strong passion for what they do.

“We’re enthusiastic about what we do. We like it! And it’s exciting!” Milgrom told the university. “And I continue to be excited by new things and it’s a great life to be able to live this way.”