Life and Probability


God controls the averages, not the individual.

I was impressed by this line when I read it in Scott Adam’s brilliant  book – God’s Debris’.

I could almost imagine God to be looking at data and tweaking it (like a benevolent central banker) to control the averages. Too many people? Hmm…. Increase lifestyle diseases. Too much pollution? Clear out an area with a typhoon. Too many low quality apps? Release a computer virus… It sort of explains why some people suffer and some have a gala time. We are just an average. A statistic.

As info-sec professionals, we tend to look at the averages and try to deduce what He might do next. We try to find answer to questions like  “What are the odds that a fire can engulf my premises?” “What are the odds that a virus will enter my network?”. We are always wondering about the probability of an event. In a way, trying to identify probabilities is like trying not to be a part of the statistic. Survival of the fittest using the bell curve1?

However, probability runs far deeper that I initially imagined. It is not just a ‘High, Medium or Low’ for information security threats, but it is omnipresent. Every factor of our life has some probability associated. Right from the mundane day to day tasks, right up to the most important tasks in life, there is probability involved. This is another way of saying: We always take a chance.

We take a chance that trains will be running on time and we will reach office on time. We take a chance that no incoming traffic will hit us when we cross a road. We take a chance that the food served at a restaurant will be clean and not make us sick. We take a chance that the life partner we choose will turn out to be good enough to spend the rest of our lives with. We always take a chance.

However, chance and probability go much deeper than that. The entire universe is based on probability! Nature, from the quantum level itself, is probabilistic. You cannot say for sure if an electron will be found at a particular place in the atomic structure or not. You can only assign it a probability! If you want to know more about this, read about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Economists build probability models to predict the state of the market. Physicists use probability to predict the presence of a particle. Risk management consultants use probability to predict events. CEOs use probability to decide on new products and markets. Everyone uses probability in some form or the other.

Here is my shot at using probability. Without knowing anything about you, dear reader, I can make some educated guess using probability. You probably do not own an island… or a yatch. You are probably not a big movie star. You probably think you are paid less for the work that you do. You probably are reading this in your work time. You are probably associated with the information security profession.

Here’s wishing you a happy life with lots of infinite possibilities and probabilities!!

1 The most famous statistical graph where the average is bunched around the centre with the above and below average bringing up the ends or tails.

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