• Reading Level 5
Maths | Science | Physical Education | Citizenship | RE

Maths: the secret to the game of life

Are there any problems maths can’t solve? It is the secret of success in chess and fantasy football; it is why computers are making more of our decisions. But is life only a numbers game? "I've just been lucky," says Magnus Carlsen. He's not talking about his winning streak of 107 chess games, but his top ranking in the Fantasy Premier League ahead of seven million other players. The young grandmasterA title awarded to the world’s very best chess players. says that "one-part stats and one-part gut feeling" helped him climb the rankings. Carlsen has incredible maths skills and an encyclopaedic memory of chess moves, openings and strategy. He also knows a lot about the Premier League. In both contests, Carlsen's brilliant mind learned algorithmsAny set of rules followed by a computer. In the context of social media, “the algorithm” refers to the intelligent AI that learns the interests of the user and presents them with posts that it thinks will interest them. to identify patterns, solve problems and make decisions. No wonder people say chess and football teach you about life. But what can crunch data faster and better than Magnus Carlsen? Computers. In fact, chess was an early test case for AIA computer programme that has been designed to think. . In the 1980s, the then world champion Gary Kasparov said he would never be defeated by a computer. He was wrong. In 1996, the computer Deep Blue beat him at his own game. Nowadays, chess is too easy for computers. The most advanced AI would thrash Magnus Carlsen in every game. Computers have moved on to bigger and more difficult tasks. They can drive cars, diagnose diseases and recognise faces. And choose your future partner? Yes, they can do that too. Online dating sites and internet giants like Google and Facebook rely on immense amounts of big data to see patterns in our behaviour, and predict what we want - before we know we want it. Magnus Carlsen can't do that. As far as we know. But are there things ordinary humans can do that we can't or shouldn't leave to computers? "The real danger today," warns Economics Professor Gary Smith, "is not that computers are smarter than us, but that we think computers are smarter than us." Carlsen's "gut feeling" in fantasy football is what some call intuition. Based on practical experience, it allows us to discount the data when things "just don't feel right". Mathematician Hannah Fry warns that not knowing the limits of AI can get us into serious trouble. Then 2008 financial crisis and Hilary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign were both blamed on blindly following computer-based decisions. But does that mean there are problems maths can't solve? A game of two halves There's no limit, say some. By 2050, experts think AI will be able to perform any intellectual task done by humans. It can already do many jobs with much greater precision and accuracy. But it is only as good as the data we give it. So, if it makes mistakes, don't blame the machine. And because we will understand the maths of life, we will have more control and understanding, not less. Not so fast, warn others. We have introduced algorithms to decide whether to release people from jail, decide who is given healthcare and to select military targets. Not only should we be worried about AI making life-changing decisions such as these, but human error and bias are built into the data that AI uses. Algorithms can help us make decisions, but humans must always have the last say. KeywordsGrandmaster - A title awarded to the world’s very best chess players.

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