Ask the Audience

The Telegraph in the UK publishes a cartoon called Alex, about the daily life of an London investment banker. A colleague of mine is a bit of a devotee and anyway he was showing me these recent series were Alex goes on Who wants to be a Millionaire.



I must say watching Millionaire I’ve often thought the same as Alex! It then occurred to me that of the hundred or so people in the crowd, there are no doubt some who have a pretty good idea about when the partridge shooting season will start or whatever other question is being asked. The problem is that they are lost in the noise of the overwhelming majority who are just giving random guesses. So it occurred to me that the best way to get some information out of them would be to run ask the audience as a tote. It also occurred to me could you use such a system in voting to perhaps get more information about what people really valued.

A tote or totalizer for those who haven’t been into the TAB is a form of parimutuel betting. The idea would be for the person in the hot seat to offer up some cash to all members of the audience (say $10each), to which they can then bet between say $1 and $10, or instead keep the remainder. Force everyone to have a bet so there is a decent pool to win from. Those confident of their answer would then have an incentive to bet big on their choice, while those who had no idea would prefer to keep as much as possible.

This would pretty quickly make the signal stand out from the noise, and while it wouldn’t guarantee a correct answer it most likely would give a better answer than the usual ask the audience. It would also be interesting because it would be a blind bet. You would have no idea of what sort of return you would get, unlike a horse race where although the odds received can shift you have some idea of what you might win when you bet. I think this would make most people not bet less unless they were very certain. Of course getting the audience to give the correct answer is not actually the gameshow’s interest, but the problem is interesting none the less.

My other thought about voting was that you could offer everyone $1000 when they turn up to vote, which they can keep or instead use to buy votes at $1 a vote. There is probably a body of theory on this type of thing if I looked. It would be interesting though. I think most people would forfeit their vote for the cash, but others, with the knowledge that everyone who walked away from their vote increased the voting powers of the others would have increasing incentives to do so.

This would make people really think about how much the choice of government mattered to them, and make those that would be most effected by a parties policies have proportionally more voting power. Parties running with similar platforms would presumably have most people just take the money. Those with more radical views would make more people pour their money into voting. Anyway just some idle speculation…


4 Responses to Ask the Audience

  1. Sacha says:

    Hey Steve,

    Re Millionaire: I noticed that often the first thing that pops into my head is the right answer; thinking about the question can let you convince yourself something else is the right answer.

    About voting: you might be introducing into your system a form of betting: I think my vote won’t have much of an effect, so I’ll take the money, or, I’m in a marginal seat, so I’ll convert all the money into votes as I really want X to be elected.

  2. Steve says:

    Sacha, yes it does turn voting into a form of betting, but you could look at betting on outcomes as a form of voting on what outcome you think most likely. I’m not seriously proposing it by the way, its more just a log of my train of thought starting with the Alex cartoon.

  3. Steve. I’d be inclined to think the audience either knows or doesn’t know but to add to the diffuculty mostly they don’t know that they don’t know. Let us say we are looking for a Latin root (no South American pop star Carry On type jokes thank you) and it’s a fine distinction, most of the audience will be simply guessing and offer no knowledge, perhaps even disproving the Crowd Intelligence theory. So I’d say a 95% vote is worth going for but a 80 – 20 split is dodgy.

    Like you I fantasise how I’d go in these quizes. I have no idea about sport or about “famous” people in magazines and fillums, however this is just the sort of thing the lesser beings than us in the audience WILL know accurately.

  4. Sacha says:

    I have no idea for about 1/3 of the questions on millionaire… even some of the low hundreds questions…

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