Derren Brown’s lottery win = A split camera trick disguised as “wisdom of crowds”

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Derren Brown: How to Win the Lottery (Channel 4 in the U.K.)


On 9 September 2009, [British illusionist] Derren Brown conducted a live TV broadcast in which he suggested that he had successfully predicted the winning National Lottery numbers prior to them being drawn. During the broadcast a number of blank lottery balls were displayed on a glass stand in clear view of the camera, and after the lottery draw had been made, the balls were rotated to reveal the winning numbers. It was claimed by Derren Brown that the only other people in the studio were two camera operators, to avoid legal issues, and that the stunt had been authorised by Camelot, the National Lottery operators.

Great Britain is buzzing like crazy about the stunt.

He claimed it was based on an old trick which tells how a crowd of people at a country fair accurately estimated the weight of an ox when their guesses were all averaged out. He gathered a panel of 24 people who wrote down their predictions after studying the last year’s worth of numbers. Then they added up all the guesses for each ball and divided it by 24 to get the average guess. On the first go they only got one number right, on the second attempt they managed three and on the third they guessed four. By the time of last week’s draw they had honed their technique to get six correct guesses, and these were the numbers shown on the Wednesday night programme. [Derren] Brown claims that the predictions were correct because of the “wisdom of the crowd” theory which suggests that a large group of people making average guesses will come up with the correct figure as an average of all their attempts. He also suggested that if the people were motivated by money, it may not work.

Well, we know a lot about the “wisdom of crowds“, here, as Midas Oracle specializes in collective intelligence. The idea of the “wisdom of crowds” is to aggregate bits of information that are dispersed in a population of independently minded individuals. The result of that information aggregation is a predictive power slightly superior (on average, over the long term) to what one single individual can produce —even a gifted one. However, the “wisdom of crowds” is not powerful enough to predict the future with 100% certainty. For that, you would have to reverse the psychological arrow of time —so as to remember the future as opposed to the past. Physicists tell us this is impossible in our universe. Hence, Derren Brown used a trick [WATCH THE 3RD VIDEO BELOW] —and concealed it with some blahblah about the “wisdom of crowds”.

“Check the ball on the right after Derren Brown says ‘23′. Notice it mysteriously jumps up and is slightly higher than the other 5 balls. (apologies for the camera wobble but my camera is on a tripod, the wobble is from the camera on the show which is programmed to wobble so you can’t see the switch of the balls). So no magic, NLP, psychology or mind-tricks. Just good old fashioned camera trickery.

How Derren Brown ‘divined’ the lotto numbers:

For the tip, thanks to Emile Servan-Schreiber of NewsFutures —we’re impatient to see the new version of their software / prediction market website.

Next: Why did illusionist Derren Brown invoke the “wisdom of crowds” in his lottery win explanation?


His next event: Trying to beat the casino.

Science Of Scams – Advert from Phillis Dorris on Vimeo.

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2 thoughts on “Derren Brown’s lottery win = A split camera trick disguised as “wisdom of crowds”

  1. FoolsGold said:

    It should be rather obvious that its easier and cheaper for him to simply buy the wining lottery ticket than do a tv-show about it. So if he goes to the trouble and expense of a tv-show its a fake! So much of our various advertising codes and Broadcast Ethics codes lack any real punch:
    A commercial can superimpose the text ‘housewife’ if the actress is married, thus creating the impression that she is not an actress hired to do the commercial.
    Also a commercial can superimpose the text ‘concealed camera’ to create an impression that the actors didn’t know the camera was there and that the action is not scripted.
    I’ve seen websites for casinos that trumpet: The Odds Are In Your Favor. One wonders how and why anyone would own a casino if the odds were in the player’s favor!
    With a public that swallows all these tricks Hook, Line and Sinker, it is no surprize that an incantation of a little Mumbo-Jumbo Buzz Word Nonsense makes people actually think the lottery numbers were predicted.
    Please forgive me for failing to utilize: Spike, Jitter, Ensemble, Narrow-Margin and Neural Net in this answer. I’ll remember to use those buzzwords next time!

  2. Derrick Cullen said:

    This is very interested. I am a big fan of Derren Brown. On the basis that it is light hearted entertainment – I understand that it is nothing more than just entertainment but what I do not understand is why people fill they need to get answers to something which is nothing more than a trick.

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