Friday, May 9, 2014

Mail Order Brides - Applied Inference, High Stakes Edition

Those of us who enjoy collecting correlations as a hobby sometimes yearn for a higher stakes version of our craft, something like the Correlation Olympics. The premise would be simple - you're given a small amount of information about a person, and asked to infer as much stuff as you possibly can about them. Points would be given both for being right, and for the non-obviousness of the conclusion you drew.

The closest real-world equivalent would be getting a mail-order bride. The market for lemons being what it is, I do not anticipate that getting a mail order bride is likely to be a sensible decision on average. And it really is a market for lemons - there are almost certainly decent men and women on both sides that could have quite happy pseudo-arranged marriages, but the problem is the high risk of golddiggers (on the one side) and abusive creeps (on the other). The bad prospects drive out the good.

That said, I don't think the people who do it are all necessarily broken or crazy (though many of them probably are). The reason is that I would wager that the international dating market is probably likely to have a higher chance of mispricing than the domestic one. Like every market, the fewer the people are who are attempting to trade on perceived mispricing, the more likely mispricing is to exist.Then again, lots of people go broke buying penny stocks on the same rationale. Illiquid markets just say there might be mispricing, not that your personal hunches will be able to sniff it out.

But I still retain a perverse fascination with the idea of choosing a mail order bride. This would be somewhere between Russian (pun intended) Roulette and the World Series of Poker when it comes to correlation studies.

Think about it - in the extreme form, for each person you've got 5 photos and a one paragraph description, possibly written in broken English, and from that you have to decide on somebody to spend the rest of your life with. In other words, you have to extract every single drop of useful information out of what you're presented with. What are they wearing? What are they doing? Is there anyone else in the photo? What's their body language? Where were they taken? How many photos are they smiling in? You need to devise an entire assessment of a person's character from such tiny scraps, and then be willing to back it up with a marriage commitment.

If you get it wrong, financial and emotional misery await. If you get it right, you may have finally found a happy life partner and a way out of a previous lonely existence.

Talk about high stakes. For reasons I can't express well, the prospect of backing one's judgment to such an outrageous level seems both terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

Of course, one doesn't actually have to gamble one's life on the outcome to play a practice version - just go to one of the many sites and look at a few profiles, and decide which one you would pick if you had to make a choice, and why. Playing poker for matchsticks is not the same as playing for bearer bonds, but you probably don't want your first game of poker to be the latter.

Better study those correlations, son!

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