The Asininity of Hope

by F.

From the wonderful, and now hilarious, Overcoming Bias blog comes a remarkable invention: the New Improved Lottery.

The New Improved Lottery pays out every five years on average, at a random time – determined, say, by the decay of a not-very-radioactive element. You buy in once, for a single dollar, and get not just a few days of epsilon chance of becoming rich, but a few years of epsilon. Not only that, your wealth could strike at any time! At any minute, the phone could ring to inform you that you, yes, you are a millionaire!

Think of how much better this would be than an ordinary lottery drawing, which only takes place at defined times, a few times per week. Let’s say the boss comes in and demands you rework a proposal, or restock inventory, or something similarly annoying. Instead of getting to work, you could turn to the phone and stare, hoping for that call – because there would be epsilon chance that, at that exact moment, you yes you would be awarded the Grand Prize! And even if it doesn’t happen this minute, why, there’s no need to be disappointed – it might happen the next minute!

Think of how many more fantasies this New Improved Lottery would enable. You could shop at the store, adding expensive items to your shopping cart – if your cellphone doesn’t ring with news of a lottery win, you could always put the items back, right?

Maybe the New Improved Lottery could even show a constantly fluctuating probability distribution over the likelihood of a win occurring, and the likelihood of particular numbers being selected, with the overall expectation working out to the aforesaid Poisson distribution. Think of how much fun that would be! Oh, goodness, right this minute the chance of a win occurring is nearly ten times higher than usual! And look, the number 42 that I selected for the Mega Ball has nearly twice the usual chance of winning!