Understanding the Odds in Life

Understanding the Odds in Life (53:00)
Item# 8927

The odds are that most people do not fully understand the statistics of probability. In this thought-provoking program, Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz, baseball great Cal Ripken, a psychologist, a decision theorist, and a handicapper investigate the function and perception of odds in daily life. Scenarios examined range from blind chance, such as a lottery, to chance mitigated by a measure of control, like playing baseball well enough to make it to the major leagues. The odds involved in horse racing and casino games are also explored, along with the "one more race" syndrome—an update of B. F. Skinner’s partial reinforcement theory—and applications of Bayes’ theorem to artificial intelligence. A Discovery Channel Production. (53 minutes)

Segments in this Video - (14)

1. Odds and Chances (03:46)

The odds against certain things, like winning the lottery, are extremely high. People's actions can change the odds in many situations. Most people change what they can and leave the rest to chance.

2. Luck, Misfortune, and Chance (03:21)

Hoping to beat huge odds is a natural tendency. Those who think they can control uncertainty tend to make poor decisions. Luck and misfortunes are both chance with different outcomes.

3. Bayes' Theorem (04:07)

Bayes' theorem explains how to mathematically consider new information when making decisions. The probability often goes against instinct but is a gauge for sound decision making.

4. Mathematical Odds and Sports (05:59)

Mathematicians explain odds as the ratio of the probability of failure against the probability of success, profiling baseball player Cal Ripken's legendary career as an example.

5. Available Information and Outcome (03:13)

People take chances betting on races but seldom consider the outcomes of big decisions like marriage or child bearing. People don't necessarily capitalize on information they are given.

6. Winning at the Horse Races (03:08)

Odds at races depend on the number of people betting on a certain horse. Americans wagered \$586 billion on legal games of chance in 1996. They lost \$48 billion that same year.

7. Theory of Partial Reinforcement (02:58)

A casino's advantage or "vig" is diagrammed for popular games such as Keno and Black Jack. Skinner's "partial reinforcement" theory may explain gambling addiction.

8. Odds of Winning at the Casino (05:04)

The mathematical odds of winning certain casino games like craps, roulette, blackjack, and poker is outlined. Winning at any casino game is still ten times more likely than winning a state lottery.

9. Negative Effects of Risk Telescoping (03:07)

Our ideas of risk are distorted by information we get from the media. "Risk telescoping" perceives small dangers to be much larger, which could cause people to ultimately ignore real dangers.

10. The Walsh Family's Big Decision (03:24)

Faced with the possibility of having a Down Syndrome baby, the Walshes use statistics to weigh the odds of having a miscarriage caused by amniocentesis and having a healthy baby.

11. What Makes a Good Decision? (03:05)

Complacency in one's perception may flaw personal decisions. A good decision is logically consistent with one's alternatives, available information, and their desired objective.

12. Bayes' Theorem and Technology (02:57)

Making good decisions often involves changing one's beliefs. Bayes' theorem is utilized greatly in modern technology and artificial intelligence. Microsoft's Eric Hovitz is profiled.

13. Decision-Making by Computer (03:21)

The computer "Lookout System" sorts e-mail by reading the user's behavior. Artificial intelligence is utilized in hospital emergency rooms and cockpits. Computers make decisions without human flaws.

14. Bayes' Theorem Lives On (02:34)

Computer tutoring programs will change the way humans learn. If Thomas Bayes were alive today, he would be astounded by how much his theory is used in our everyday computer society.