Derren Brown's Trick

Okay, the two people actually reading this blog have both asked what Derren Brown's trick was for predicting the lottery.  I doubt either of you are going to like it.  He used crowd-sourcing.

He ostensibly calls it "deep maths", but explains it, quite simply, as averaging.  He didn't go into details (or so I've inferred from other people's discussions on the show--I haven't watched it since it's only aired in the UK), but at the simplest level, what he did was average the predictions of 24 people.

Here's where I think he left some things out.  He's said earlier that it "took a year of preparation".  Given that fact, here's what I think he really did:

  1. Got together 24 of his closest friends.
  2. Had those friends watch the lottery very closely over the course of a year, having each person do their best to "see patterns" and "predict" what the next lottery's results would be.
  3. Lather, rinse, and repeat this over the course of about a year (at least 50 lottery draws).
  4. Arrange each person's predictions on a linear scale (lowest to highest), and average each participant's guess in order (so: average everyone's lowest guess, then next lowest, and so on).
  5. Measure the results carefully, of course.  I imagine the results would get better over time as people get a better "sense" for how the numbers fall, so to speak.
  6. When the group clearly has better-than-average results, start buying one lottery ticket each week.  ...You've gotta pay your participants.  : )
  7. At some point, decide that this is "working" and risk it all on one week's prediction.
Of course, I could be completely wrong!

That said, this is an experiment that is simple enough to attempt, with minimal expense and merely a moderate investment in time (30 minutes a week for each participant).  I plan on trying it, actually.


Victor said...

You are completely wrong.

Yes, I read about his "crowdsourcing" explanation. Unless everything modern science knows about the world is a lie, 'crowdsourcing' couldn't possibly work. Not for that sort of prediction. That's because, even if the lottery machine is biased, it's biased very slightly, and the chances of correctly predicting all 6 numbers, based on that bias (which I don't think exists, but let's suppose) are effectively nil.

Even if the bias was 50% (50% of the time a given specific number comes out in a given specific position), that still means that the machine would only have 1/(2^6) = 1/64th chance of all 6 numers coming out in accordance with the bias. And 50% bias is monstrously huge, everyone would have noticed it by now.

No, I would wager a very large sum of money (had I had any) that the 'crowdsourcing' explanation is a performer's lie. Brown is laughing his ass off.

Victor said...

P.S. As I wrote earlier, had Brown really made the prediction, it would have been trivial, absolutely trivial, for him to prove, without revealing the numbers (so as to comply with the lame "they don't let me reveal the numbers first" excuse), that he had done it ahead of time. He chose to refrain from doing anything of the sort.

It was a magic trick, dude, not an actual lottery prediction.

Jeremy Rice said...

Entirely possible.

The theory that one can crowd-source the lottery is, fortunately, fairly easy to falsify.

...Which is what I plan to do. :)

r_b_bergstrom said...

It was a magic trick, dude, not an actual lottery prediction.

I nearly posted the same thing, but was apprehensive about attacking one of your heroes.

The guy is an illusionist / magician / con-man / hypnotist / celebrity. No matter the PR spin or candy-coating, it remains a fact that no one in any of those categories should be trusted without very good reason. The guy makes money off of selling the illusion, and he's very good at it.

Jeremy Rice said...

I told you neither of you would like it. ; )

I admit to cognitive dissonance operating here. Just so you can better-appreciate my position:

1) I like Derren Brown and think he is ultimately a kind-hearted person trying to help people, and I believe I have "very good reason" to hold this trust in him.
2) I believe DB's M.O. is not one of "fucking with people" just to "laugh his ass off". Nothing he's done in the past follows that line of reasoning. On the contrary, I find his "tricks" are often designed to reveal something fascinating about human psychology and truth, ironically.
3) I did, in fact, perceive DB to be *genuinely* nervous about the stunt, and he was doing a lot of hedging about the possibility that it would work.

This is dissonant with my other beliefs:

1) Lotteries are random events and generally a waste of money.
2) If he *did* have a system, lotteries would be "broken".
3) Mathematically speaking, crowd-sourcing is brilliant (spot-on, near-perfect) in discovering fact: the weight of a cow, the gumballs in a jar, the date of some historical event. But since the lotto numbers are not facts, crowd-sourcing does not apply.
4) My other beliefs are Call to Authority, and clearly emotionally-charged.

I'm fully aware that it's not AT ALL sound science, and yet I do have enough faith to at least /try/. ...What's it going to cost me? $2 if I play once? $10 if I try five times? ...Plus some hours of reviewing past lotto results, and possibly some points with friends. [shrug] I think it's worth the effort, even if the odds are, mathematically, still 1 in 10,939,383. :)

So, yes: I am completely wrong. About one thing or the other... and it seems overwhelmingly like it's the one thing. But it seems relatively trivial to check.

[shrug] Perhaps that makes me a putz. So be it.

r_b_bergstrom said...

For the record, I don't think you're a putz, or that your trying this is a bad idea.

As you said, the only downside to this is the relatively tiny amount of money and time you're gonna spend on it. In exchange for that, there's a slim chance you'll get rich, or learn something really cool from the process. People do far crazier things every day. Unless you start dropping several hundred dollars on tickets, playing the lottery instead of eating, etc, there's no problem here.

Several years back, I made the point of buying a lottery ticket about once a week - it was a little less than that. Kept it up for most of a year. Cost me $20 or $30 total. Never won a damn thing, but I certainly didn't regret not having spent that extra $1 on crappy fast food every week (which I ate a lot of back then).

I stopped buying tickets because of the emotional ups and downs. The fun of anticipation was far less than the disappointment felt by losing week after week. Having some stats to analyze might take the sting off of losing, and make it more fun.

I hope it works. I've always wanted to say "I knew that guy before he became a millionaire."

Jeremy Rice said...

Follow up (sorry for the reply YEARS later, but I only just now watched the follow-up):

He rigged the lottery.

No, really. He planted a guy in the lottery system, had him find out when the balls were unguarded, had balls statistically heavier than the others fabricated, bribed a guard, snuck in the heavier balls, bribed another guard, and snuck them out. Of course, all of that would be HIGHLY illegal, so when asked, he says he used crowd-sourcing. ...But he otherwise made it clear that rigging the damn thing is what he did.

He totally had me duped, and I am rather embarrassed about it, frankly. :)

Makes me question just how many of his other amazing tricks are rigged in a similar way. Disappointing, but important.