World Statistics Day | A Q&A with Mathematics Professor Marcus du Sautoy
It's World Statistics Day! For those of us who aren't particularly mathsy (is that a word?) the day may not feel like something to get too excited over. Perhaps maths still conjures a memory of yourself as a struggling student? But in an age where data is so powerful, is statistics really something we can afford to leave at the school gates? We chatted to one of the UK's leading mathematicians, Marcus du Sautoy about why maths and stats are so relevant to today's society.
Hi Marcus, can you tell us why World Statistics Day is so important?
We live in such a data-rich age. People leave an extraordinary trail of numbers behind them as they navigate the digital world. The art is in in being able to pull out patterns and trends in those numbers. That is what mathematics is brilliant at.
Can you give us an example where your mathematical insight has given you the edge?
Never play games with a mathematician. The mathematics of game theory means that from poker to monopoly a mathematician has insights that are likely to put them in a winning position. For example by analysing the most common roll of two dice a mathematicians knows that the orange properties are the winning ones to buy in Monopoly. The economy is basically a sophisticated game of numbers which is why the winning investors are always mathematicians.
Any tips for winning the lottery?
Humans are not very good at behaving randomly. They tend to leave patterns wherever they go. This is especially true in the way humans pick numbers in the lottery. They tend to space their numbers out. But actually half the numbers that are drawn in the lottery have two consecutive numbers. Randomness tends to clump things. So when you pick your numbers, clump them together because if you win you won’t have to share the jackpot.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished a new book called The Creativity Code looking at the impact that the new AI and machine learning is going to have on society. So many jobs are under threat but will computers ever match the creativity of humans? Can they paint portraits, write poetry, compose music? How good is the new AI?
What key takeaways do you like to leave audiences with?
In this age of numbers and algorithms, if you don’t understand how those numbers and algorithms work then you’re at the mercy of the maths. But if you get the maths then that gives you amazing power to control your destiny. I try to give audiences the tools to navigate this mathematical world of numbers and algorithms.
And if you could give one motivational or inspirational comment to our audience out there, what would it be?
Never say you’ve not got a brain to do maths. You may not know your multiplication tables but that’s not what maths is about. Humans evolved to be good at spotting patterns and that is what makes a good mathematician.
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