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Making a fortune through numbers

A wallet containing 50 notes
More or Less
Monday, 26 November, 2007
BBC Radio 4, 1630 GMT

Earlier in the series we talked to some "quants" (quantitative analysts)- the new breed of mathematicians making millions in banking and hedge funds.

We loved the idea that the top number crunchers can now make as much money as a professional footballer or a pop star. But listener Gordon Petherbridge thought we were a little too uncritical of the quants:

"...the vast sums they acquire (as opposed to earn) are ultimately reliant on the exploitation of Joe Public and when, as inevitably they do, the edifices they construct implode, it's not the geeks who pick up the tab."


So are the quants exploiting the rest of us?

And are they in any way responsible for the current credit squeeze?

We spoke to Professor William Perraudin of the Tanaka Business School at Imperial College London and to Paul Wilmott, founder of the popular quant website

Dating by numbers

Algorithms and computing power are making human expertise increasingly redundant - and rightly so, according to Professor Ian Ayres.

His new book Supercrunchers: How Anything Can Be Predicted, is full of examples of human judgement losing out to statistical analysis.

BBC's More or Less's reporter Ruth Alexander

He describes how the so-called supercrunchers can predict with greater accuracy than experts which films will be blockbusters, which wine harvests will be vintage years, which prisoners are most likely to re-offend and which dating couples have the most potential for wedded bliss.

The last of these examples gave our reporter Ruth Alexander an idea.

Can data-based decision making and regression equations help Ruth find love?

Some might pin their hopes on a chance encounter or eyes meeting across a crowded room. Ruth decided to try a more evidence-based approach by signing-up to a dating service that claims its secret algorithms can find customers the perfect match.

Will she find true love?

Prize winner

Alex Smith, a 20-year-old student at Birmingham University has just won a $25,000 prize for being the first person in the world to solve a problem which has puzzled mathematicians for over 50 years.

Student Alex Smith

In a 50-page proof Alex has shown that the two, three Turing Machine - a very simple computer - can solve any problem that a super computer can solve.

Presenter Tim Harford spoke to Alex about his achievement and Helen Joyce, former editor of Plus magazine explains the significance of Alex's achievement.

Presenter: Tim Harford
Producer: Innes Bowen

BBC Radio 4's More or Less was broadcast on Monday, 26 November, 2007 at 1630 GMT.

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