Wednesday, January 12, 2011

“The Honeymoon Machine”

Today’s post is just a personal note. I’ve made a change to my profile page, adding a movie to my favorite movie list. I’m not sure how I left off this movie years ago when I made that list. And I did an earlier post about this movie and still didn't add it to my favorite movie list.

Roulette And The Magic Of Math

“The Honeymoon Machine” was released in 1961, the year after I was born. But it used to be on television a lot. As a very young kid I saw this movie on TV and it was the first movie that I ever made a mental note to remember, to check the TV guide and keep a look out for. I think I’ve seen this movie more times than any other film.

Jim Hutton plays a brilliant computer scientist and Steve McQueen is an audacious young naval officer. Hutton is on McQueen’s boat to test his new computer that can track missiles and predict their reentry trajectory. McQueen realizes that, in theory, that process is very similar to predicting a roulette ball falling onto a roulette wheel. Hutton says predicting roulette is impossible. But he’s a brilliant computer scientist and his computer is the fastest computer ever built and McQueen talks him into attempting the impossible: using the computer to beat the odds at roulette in a casino.

So there are a lot of really funny misadventures along the way and they both meet interesting women and get involved with romance along the way. And they kind of succeed, after a fashion, although, of course, nothing works out the way a person plans.

This is a wonderful Hollywood screwball comedy, but the remarkable thing about the film is that right about the time the movie came out, some very famous people were actually trying to do almost exactly what the film narrates.

Edward Thorp and Claude Shannon—Claude Shannon for heaven’s sake!—created a special purpose little computer, the first known such device in history—and attempted to use the computer and some fancy physics and math to beat a casino’s roulette odds.

“The Invention of the First Wearable Computer”

And, as if that wasn’t bizarre enough, a few years later a wild group of young physicists attempted to do it again, with better technology. And they did it!

“The Eudaemonic Pie”

This kind of thing is still going on today. It’s not talked about openly, even on the internet. (Yeah, there are some topics that aren’t talked about on the internet!) But using high tech resources to try to scam casinos is a bizarre and thriving kind of subculture.

“The Honeymoon Machine” was a screwball comedy but in real life trying to scam casinos doesn’t generate a lot of laughs. From what I’ve heard, and I may be wrong, but from what I’ve heard when people try to do stuff like this and get caught they get locked up, or decide to leave the country or just kind of disappear.

But it’s a great movie. And it would be cool to do it for real. Or something like it.

No comments: