“The science of statistics is the chief instrumentality through which the progress of civilization is now measured, and by which its development hereafter will be largely controlled.” S. N. D. North
Most of you that know me personally know that I will be graduating this year with a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. I have been very statistics oriented ever since I was a young child. It began with my love for sports, in which I would draw out yard lines on the driveway to record football statistics when I played with my brothers. When watching professional sports, I would often already know a statistic before they even showed it at the bottom of the screen. Statistics have always been a powerful force in my life, but I’m not the only one who has seen the impact. We live in a world where the power of statistics is on the rise, and the only question is: Where is the limit?
The demand for statisticians has been increasing for several years now. People and companies in general do not like uncertainty. The best way to avoid uncertainty is to look at an objective analysis of what is most likely to happen based on previous statistics. This can be done in many ways: data mining, predictive modeling, regression analysis, decisions trees, etc. Some of the most successful companies in recent years have created their empire based on statistics. Netflix is a classic example. By creating algorithms to analyze thousands and thousands of customer statistics, Netflix can get frighteningly close to predicting exactly what their users will watch next, and make suggestions based on that data. Professional sports are using advanced statistics as well to evaluate the true value of a player, and it has contributed to playoff appearances and championships. We have been told that there are no guarantees in life, but as technology continues to improve, the power of statistics and analytics continues to become more and more accurate at predicting the future.
Back to the original question: What is the potential for statistics in the future? Can we actually reach the point where we can use statistics to predict outcomes with 100% accuracy? We know that statistics can be very reliable in predicting objective outcomes, such which movie a person will watch next or how a baseball player will perform under certain conditions. What is the one factor behind human decision-making that is nearly impossible to predict? The impact of emotion. Statistics are based off logical, objective conclusions based on what makes sense from a rational perspective. However, emotions are not rational often times. We might predict that a kicker will make a 25 yard field goal because he is accurate 99% of the time from 25 yards or less, but if the kick is to win the Super Bowl the pressure gets to him emotionally and he misses it. We might wonder why an ace of a pitching staff gets shelled by a bad team, but we can’t see inside his head to know that he cannot focus because his wife is expecting a child any day now.
With that being said, let’s suppose we develop the technology to read and interpret the human brain. Now statistics has the power to analyze and predict human emotion. By collecting data on what is going through the brain and the emotions a person is experiencing, the same statistical techniques can be applied in order to attempt to predict human emotion in a given situation. Now you take the most logical decision based off objective data and the most likely emotional outcome based off human data and you can map out even more accurately the outcome of a given situation. Now imagine some of the potential applications this could have: Predicting if someone who is mentally insane is going to shoot up a school, predicting the potential for wars and international conflict, predicting a potential conflict in relationships and attacking the problem before it happens, etc.
It may be a long ways off in the future, but with the right technology and enough data, we could be looking at a world with little to no uncertainty. Statistics are a very powerful thing. Many of our decisions are influenced by emotion, but there is nothing more accurate than a decision based off objective analysis of past statistics. The more people realize this, the closer we are to a world ruled by the power of statistics, and potentially a world devoid of uncertainty.
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