Liv Boeree to Break Up with Igor Because Math Says So!?!

3 years ago
Liv Boeree to Break Up with Igor Because Math Says So!?!
27 Mar

Liv Boeree begins her TED Talk with an anecdote only those who have dated a degenerate will find truly recognisable, a cold hard assessment of how likely she and her boyfriend are to break up, complete with percentage chances. Her estimates weren’t 0%, giving an unreasonable hope to most of her male friends, and the more optimistic sections of poker’s online communities.

What she doesn’t mention is whether or not she and Igor put any money put any money down on the over/under.

The somewhat frivolous tale makes a more serious point: exercises like this are what Boeree goes on to describe as a kind of emotional insurance – paying the premium of ‘an awkward conversation’ up front for some preparedness going forward. And her talk lays out some of the other ways in which our dealings with probability fail us, especially in unexamined aspects of language.

A Number Speaks A Thousand Words

The title of the talk is a little misleading because in among the range of points about language the central message of the talk is that numbers mean just one thing, with perfect conciseness, whereas phrases like ‘fair chance’ and ‘almost certain’ can mean a wide – and overlapping – range of percentages depending on context and individual preference.

The danger, according to Boeree is that using the wrong words can lead us into “gambling without realising that we are gambling” or to “treating fringe cases similarly”. A fact she backs up with the provides the sphincter tightening statistics that the difference in a 99.99% and a 99.9% chance of a safety failure per nuclear reactor per year is the difference between one failure on average every 15 years and one every 18 months.

Experienced poker players are “almost certainly” already using some of the ideas she lays out, but her proposals for habits that help generate the “clarity and granularity” of statistical thinking in every aspect of one’s life are worth the price of admission alone.

Watch the full talk here:

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Jon is a freelance writer and novelist who learned to play poker after watching Rounders in year 9. He has been giving away his beer money at cards ever since. Currently he is based in Bristol where he makes sporadic donations to the occasional live tournament or drunken late night Zoom session. He ...Read more


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