Christian Long

Sean Gourley: The Mathematics of War

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Reflection by DERON M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Sean Gourley:  The Mathematics of War

Just by a show of hands, how many of you remember your high school or college statistics class?

If you raised your hand you’re probably lying to yourself or you teach the class. For those of you who do remember: Can war, one of the most unpredictable events on our planet, be able to be predicted by applying probability and the principles of group dynamics? Can we discover a way to find the probabilities of success, failure, and the number of casualties in a battle?

Sean Gourley believes he can.

Sean began to assemble a team of elite mathematicians, scientists, and even economists to find out if war can be predicted. What they found was astounding.

By collecting bits of information from wars raging all over the globe from newspapers, television stations, and NGO reports, Gourley and his team were able to create a scatter plot of the data. What they got was a random distribution of the number of attacks that killed x amount of people. Then when the same mathematical principles were applied to the Iraq War, a correlation appeared between the size of the attack (the number of people killed) and the frequency of that type of attack. When the same principles were applied to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Columbia, and Senegal, the same correlation appeared.

So what does all of this mean?

All of these conflicts are between different political factions in different parts of the world with different terrain and weapon technology. Gourley believes that using these statistics can be used to find away to stabilize and eventually end wars through either breaking the opposing force up into many small groups that take a while to defeat or a few large, powerful groups that can at least be contained.

To an ordinary person like me, this is about as confusing as it gets:  High mathematics + Group dynamic principles = Major headache

But to Sean Gourley and his team, this is just simple everyday work.

If a person could be able to easily grasp these concepts, war could be easier to manipulate in favor of one side or another. The issue with this is finding those who can understand these concepts. I have watched this video about five times and still only have a loose grasp on what Gourley is trying to propose. It’s not that he is a bad speaker; it’s that to this is a completely foreign concept to the average citizen. If this information was put into the right (or possibly wrong) hands, war could be even more mathematically and strategically based as opposed to who has the greatest firepower.


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