Sunday, July 16, 2017

An Engineer, A Physicist, And A Statistician

Many years ago, as a young postgraduate student I and two colleagues (an engineer (E) and a physicist (P)) would meet every Saturday for an early lunch to discuss the week’s events in our respective disciplines and to give our differing perspectives on world events. It was an innocent and idealistic exercise driven by youthful enthusiasm and naivete. Naturally, our discussions ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between.
Time passed and as our careers evolved we drifted apart and lost contact. Then a few years ago, I unexpectedly ran into E at Royal Ascot. After we engaged in some good-natured banter about the humbling nature of the aging process and introduced our respective wives, our attention turned to the Group 2, Queen Mary Stakes for 2yo Fillies. I asked E what he liked in the race and how he made his selections. He turned to me in disbelief and said, “For 2yo races, I use the method you recommended to me back in the day to identify a select band of unexposed horses to exploit throughout the season.” Completely bewildered I said, “Remind me”. He then proceeded to outline an adaptation of the bayesian bandit (thompson sampling) “explore-exploit” strategy as used in the multi-armed bandit problem. To which, I blurted out, “You mean, it works!”. I quickly pointed out that I must have thought at the time it was a strategy worth exploring but that all the kudos should go to him for exploiting it so successfully. Engineers rule by defeasible reasoning!
Later that evening, my wife teased me by asking if I had given mathematical advice to everyone I had ever met and when I looked surprised by the question she added wickedly, “My hero, so brave, so strong!”