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Doyne Farmer on the Physics of Beating Roulette

Fri, 11 May 2012 04:12:00 GMT

Michael Slezak writes at New Scientist:

A prominent mathematician famous the world over for successfully turning the odds of roulette against the house has broken his decades-long silence about how he achieved the coup.

In the 1970s, Doyne Farmer, then a graduate student, used the world's first wearable computer to beat roulette tables in Nevada, but never revealed how he did it.

Now he has decided to break his long silence after a pair of researchers, inspired by his story, developed and published their own method of beating the house.

"I kept silent because I did not want to communicate any information that might prevent anyone from taking the casinos' money," writes Farmer, now at the University of Oxford, in a draft paper that he showed to New Scientist. "I see no good reason for staying silent any longer."

Farmer's paper is a response to recent research by Michael Small from the University of Western Australia in Perth and Michael Tse from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, submitted to the journal Chaos. They demonstrate that with a few measurements and a small computer or smartphone, you can indeed tip the odds in your favour. The trick is to record when the ball and a set part of the rotating wheel both pass a chosen point.

Read the Full Article

You can see a copy of the paper which inspired Doyne to reveal his method here: Predicting the Outcome of Roulette by Michael Small and Chi Kong Tse.

This is the second time that Doyne has featured at MoneyScience this week and you can see him on Video talking about Complexity and Economics in this series of talks given at the INET conference in Berlin.

Doyne is also a Member of the MoneyScience Advisory Panel and you can see his MoneyScience profile here.

The story of how Doyne and his team set about beating vegas is told by Thomas M Bass in his book, The Eudaemonic Pie and it's follow up, about the same group's move into finance, The Predictors: How a Band of Maverick Physicists Used Chaos Theory to Trade Their Way to a Fortune on Wall Street

Doyne Farmer at Wikipedia:

Although born in Houston, Texas, he spent most of his early life in Silver City, New Mexico, where he first developed an interest in physics. He spent his first year of college at the University of Idaho and his second year at Stanford University, California. Doyne went to graduate school at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studied chaos theory and the physics of roulette. He received his PhD in Physics there in 1981.

Doyne Farmer then took up a post-doctoral appointmment at the centre for non-linear studies at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and in 1988 became leader of the Complex Systems Group, Theoretical Division.

In 1991 Farmer gave up his position at Los Alamos to start Prediction Company, with Norman Packard and Jim McGill. The purpose of this company was to create automated trading systems for a variety of commodity and securities markets, making predictions of trends using principles of physics, particularly Chaos Theory.

Doyne is a savant of both the Hardy Boys and Icelandic Sagas. He can change the rear end of a broken van stuck in the desert, and can convince George Soros that econophysics is worth supporting.

Eudaemonic Enterpises

The Eudaemons were a small group headed by graduate physics students Doyne Farmer and Norman Packard at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the late 1970s. The group's immediate objective was to find a way to beat roulette, but a loftier objective was to use the money made from roulette to fund a scientific community. The name of the group was inspired by the eudaimonism philosophy.

While a graduate student Doyne Farmer and other students from the University of California, Santa Cruz, spent several years researching a physics-based system that could predict outcomes of roulette games. During this time the group built a series of computers that were capable of calculating the motion of a moving ball, and trials in Las Vegas showed success. However, because of technical faults with computer equipment, the success was only partial and the technology was not feasible to use to make large profits.

Prediction Company

The Prediction Company was founded in 1991 by Doyne Farmer, Norman Packard and Jim McGill to apply principles of physics and mathematics to the financial sector. From 1991 to 1999 Doyne held the position of Chief Scientist and from 1995 to 1999 the position of co-president.

Farmer is a co-founder of the Atalaya Institute, a new and independent public policy institute in Santa Fe and is currently part of the steering committee.


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