# 6.042/18.062J Mathematics for Computer Science. Expected Value I

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1 6.42/8.62J Mathematics for Computer Science Srini Devadas and Eric Lehman May 3, 25 Lecture otes Expected Value I The expectation or expected value of a random variable is a single number that tells you a lot about the behavior of the variable. Roughly, the expectation is the average value, where each value is weighted according to the probability that it comes up. Formally, the expected value of a random variable R defined on a sample space S is: Ex (R) = R(w) Pr (w) 6 k 6 To appreciate its signficance, suppose S is the set of students in a class, and we select a student uniformly at random. Let R be the selected student s exam score. Then Ex (R) is just the class average the first thing everyone want to know after getting their test back! In the same way, expectation is usually the first thing one wants to determine about any random variable. Let s work through an example. Let R be the number that comes up on a fair, six sided die. Then the expected value of R is: Ex (R) = k= = = 2 This calculation shows that the name expected value is a little misleading; the random variable might never actually take on that value. ou can t roll a 3 on an ordinary die! 2 Betting on Coins Dan, Eric, and ick decide to play a fun game. Each player puts \$2 on the table and secretly writes down either heads or tails. Then one of them tosses a fair coin. The \$6 on the table is divided evenly among the players who correctly predicted the outcome of the coin toss. If everyone guessed incorrectly, then everyone takes their money back. After many repetitions of this game, Dan has lost a lot of money more than can be explained by bad luck. What s going on? A tree diagram for this problem is worked out below, under the assumptions that everyone guesses correctly with probability and everyone is correct independently.

2 2 Expected Value I ick right? Dan s payoff probability Dan right? Eric right? \$ \$ /8 /8 \$ \$4 /8 /8 /8 /8 /8 \$ /8 In the payoff column, we re accounting for the fact that Dan has to put in \$2 just to play. So, for example, if he guesses correctly and Eric and ick are wrong, then he takes all \$6 on the table, but his net profit is only \$4. Working from the tree diagram, Dan s expected payoff is: Ex (payoff) = ( 2) + ( 2) + ( 2) = So the game perfectly fair! Over time, he should neither win nor lose money. The trick is that ick and Eric are collaborating; in particular, they always make opposite guesses. So our assumption everyone is correct independently is wrong; actually the events that ick is correct and Eric is correct are mutually exclusive! As a result, Dan can never win all the money on the table. When he guesses correctly, he always has to split his winnings with someone else. This lowers his overall expectation, as the corrected tree diagram below shows:

3 Expected Value I 3 ick right? Dan s payoff probability Dan right? Eric right? \$ \$ /4 \$ \$4 /4 /4 /4 \$ From this revised tree diagram, we can work out Dan s actual expected payoff: Ex (payoff) = ( 2) + ( 2) + ( 2) = 2 So he loses an average of a half dollar per game! Similar opportunities for subtle cheating come up in many betting games. For example, a group of friends once organized a football pool where each participant would guess the outcome of every game each week relative to the spread. This may mean nothing to you, but the upshot is that everyone was effectively betting on the outcomes of 2 or 3 coin tosses each week. The person who correctly predicts the most coin tosses won a lot of money. The organizer, thinking in terms of the first tree diagram, swore up and down that there was no way to get an unfair edge. But actually the number of participants was small enough that just two players betting oppositely could gain a substantial advantage! Another example involves a former MIT professor of statistics, Herman Chernoff. State lotteries are the worst gambling games around because the state pays out only a fraction of the money it takes in. But Chernoff figured out a way to win! Here are rules for a typical lottery: All players pay \$ to play and select 4 numbers from to 36. The state draws 4 numbers from to 36 uniformly at random.

4 4 Expected Value I The state divides the money collected among the people who guessed correctly and spends the other half repairing the Big Dig. This is a lot like our betting game, except that there are more players and more choices. Chernoff discovered that a small set of numbers was selected by a large fraction of the population apparently many people think the same way. It was as if the players were collaborating to lose! If any one of them guessed correctly, then they d have to split the pot with many other players. By selecting numbers uniformly at random, Chernoff was unlikely to get one of these favored sequences. So if he won, he d likely get the whole pot! By analyzing actual state lottery data, he determined that he could win an average of 7 cents on the dollar this way! 2 Equivalent Definitions of Expectation There are some other ways of writing the definition of expectation. Sometimes using one of these other formulations can make computing an expectation a lot easier. One option is to group together all outcomes on which the random variable takes on the same value. Theorem. Ex (R) = x Pr (R = x) x range(r) Proof. We ll transform the left side into the right. Let [R = x] be the event that R = x. Ex (R) = R(w) Pr (w) = R(w) Pr (w) x range(r) w [R=x] = x Pr (w) x range(r) w [R=x] = x Pr (w) x range(r) w [R=x] = x Pr (R = x) x range(r) On the second line, we break the single sum into two. The outer sum runs over all possible values x that the random variable takes on, and the inner sum runs over all outcomes taking on that value. Thus, we re still summing over every outcome in the sample space exactly once. On the last line, we use the definition of the probability of the event [R = x].

5 Expected Value I 5 Corollary 2. If R is a natural valued random variable, then: Ex (R) = i Pr (R = i) i= There is another way to write the expected value of a random variable that takes on values only in the natural numbers, = {,, 2,...}. Theorem 3. If R is a natural valued random variable, then: Proof. Consider the sum: Ex (R) = Pr (R > i) i= Pr (R = ) + Pr (R = 2) + Pr (R = 3) + + Pr (R = 2) + Pr (R = 3) + + Pr (R = 3) + + The columns sum to Pr (R = ), 2 Pr (R = 2), 3 Pr (R = 3), etc. Thus, the whole sum is equal to: i Pr (R = i) = Ex (R) i= Here, we re using Corollary 2. On the other hand, the rows sum to Pr (R > ), Pr (R > ), Pr (R > 2), etc. Thus, the whole sum is also equal to: Pr (R > i) i= These two expressions for the whole sum must be equal, which proves the theorem. 2. Mean Time to Failure Let s look at a problem where one of these alternative definitions of expected value is particularly helpful. A computer program crashes at the end of each hour of use with probability p, if it has not crashed already. What is the expected time until the program crashes? If we let R be the number of hours until the crash, then the answer to our problem is Ex (R). This is a natural valued variable, so we can use the formula: Ex (R) = Pr (R > i) i=

6 6 Expected Value I We have R > i only if the system remains stable after i opportunities to crash, which happens with probability ( p) i. Plugging this into the formula above gives: Ex (R) = ( p) i i= = ( p) = p The closed form on the second line comes from the formula for the sum of an infinite geometric series where the ratio of consecutive terms is p. So, for example, if there is a % chance that the program crashes at the end of each hour, then the expected time until the program crashes is /. = hours. The general principle here is well worth remembering: if a system fails at each time step with probability p, then the expected number of steps up to the first failure is /p. 2.2 Making a Baby Girl A couple really wants to have a baby girl. There is a 5% chance that each child they have is a girl, and the genders of their children are mutually independent. If the couple insists on having children until they get a girl, then how many baby boys should they expect first? This is really a variant of the previous problem. The question, How many hours until the program crashes? is mathematically the same as the question, How many children must the couple have until they get a girl? In this case, a crash corresponds to having a girl, so we should set p = 2. By the preceding analysis, the couple should expect a baby girl after having /p = 2 children. Since the last of these will be the girl, they should expect just boy. 3 Linearity of Expectation Expected values obey a wonderful rule called linearity of expectation. This says that the expectation of a sum is the sum of the expectationas. Theorem 4 (Linearity of Expectation). For every pair of random variables R and R 2 : Ex (R + R 2 ) = Ex (R ) + Ex (R 2 )

7 Expected Value I 7 Proof. Let S be the sample space. Ex (R + R 2 ) = (R (w) + R 2 (w)) Pr (w) = R (w) Pr (w) + R 2 (w) Pr (w) = Ex (R ) + Ex (R 2 ) Linearity of expectation generalizes to any finite collection of random variables by induction: Corollary 5. For any random variables R, R 2,..., R k, Ex (R + R R k ) = Ex (R ) + Ex (R 2 ) + + Ex (R k ) The reason linearity of expectation is so wonderful is that, unlike many other probability rules, the random variables are not required to be independent. This probably sounds like a yeah, whatever technicality right now. But when you give an analysis using linearity of expectation, someone will almost invariably say, o, you re wrong. There are all sorts of complicated dependencies here that you re ignoring. But that s the magic of linearity of expectation: you can ignore such dependencies! 3. Expected Value of Two Dice What is the expected value of the sum of two fair dice? Let the random variable R be the number on the first die, and let R 2 be the number on the second die. At the start of these otes, we showed that the expected value of one die is 3. We can find the expected value of the sum using linearity of expectation: 2 Ex (R + R 2 ) = Ex (R ) + Ex (R 2 ) = = 7 otice that we did not have to assume that the two dice were independent. The expected sum of two dice is 7, even if they are glued together! (This is provided that gluing somehow does not change weights to make the individual dice unfair.) Proving that the expected sum is 7 with a tree diagram would be hard; there are 36 cases. And if we did not assume that the dice were independent, the job would be a nightmare!

8 8 Expected Value I 3.2 The Hat Check Problem There is a dinner party where n men check their hats. The hats are mixed up during dinner, so that afterward each man receives a random hat. In particular, each man gets his own hat with probability /n. What is the expected number of men who get their own hat? Without linearity of expectation, this would be a very difficult question to answer. We might try the following. Let the random variable R be the number of men that get their own hat. We want to compute Ex (R). By the definition of expectation, we have: Ex (R) = k Pr(R = k) k= ow we re in trouble, because evaluating Pr(R = k) is a mess and we then need to substitute this mess into a summation. Furthermore, to have any hope, we would need to fix the probability of each permutation of the hats. For example, we might assume that all permutations of hats are equally likely. ow let s try to use linearity of expectation. As before, let the random variable R be the number of men that get their own hat. The trick is to express R as a sum of indicator variables. In particular, let R i be an indicator for the event that the ith man gets his own hat. That is, R i = is the event that he gets his own hat, and R i = is the event that he gets the wrong hat. The number of men that get their own hat is the sum of these indicators: R = R + R R n These indicator variables are not mutually independent. For example, if n men all get their own hats, then the last man is certain to receive his own hat. But, since we plan to use linearity of expectation, we don t have worry about independence! Let s take the expected value of both sides of the equation above and apply linearity of expectation: Ex (R) = Ex (R + R R n ) = Ex (R ) + Ex (R 2 ) + + Ex (R n ) All that remains is to compute the expected value of the indicator variables R i. We ll use an elementary fact that is worth remembering in its own right: Fact. The expected value of an indicator random variable is the probability that the indicator is. In symbols: Ex (I) = Pr (I = ) Proof. Ex (I) = Pr (I = ) + Pr (I = ) = Pr (I = )

9 Expected Value I 9 So now we need only compute Pr(R i = ), which is the probability that the ith man gets his own hat. Since every man is as likely to get one hat as another, this is just /n. Putting all this together, we have: Ex (R) = Ex (R ) + Ex (R 2 ) + + Ex (R n ) = Pr (R = ) + Pr (R 2 = ) + + Pr (R n = ) = n =. n So we should expect man to get his own hat back on average! otice that we did not assume that all permutations of hats are equally likely or even that all permutations are possible. We only needed to know that each man received his own hat with probability /n. This makes our solution very general, as the next example shows. 3.3 The Chinese Appetizer Problem There are n people at a circular table in a Chinese restaurant. On the table, there are n different appetizers arranged on a big Lazy Susan. Each person starts munching on the appetizer directly in front of him or her. Then someone spins the Lazy Susan so that everyone is faced with a random appetizer. What is the expected number of people that end up with the appetizer that they had originally? This is just a special case of the hat check problem, with appetizers in place of hats. In the hat check problem, we assumed only that each man received his own hat with probability /n. Beyond that, we made no assumptions about how the hats could be permuted. This problem is a special case because we happen to know that appetizers are cyclically shifted relative to their initial position. This means that either everyone gets their original appetizer back, or no one does. But our previous analysis still holds: the expected number of people that get their own appetizer back is.

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