Discussion Points for Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Discussion Points for Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions


Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths.

Discussion Guidelines

  • Read the material before coming to class. You won’t be quizzed on it, but do it because it is the right thing to do.
  • Discussions will first occur in small groups.
    • As discussion occurs, respect and try to understand all comments made.
    • During the discussion, take brief notes about key ideas that emerge.
    • For each key idea, try to identify an example that illustrates the idea.
    • Make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.
    • Make sure each person can see everyone else.
    • Designate a person to speak on behalf of the group.
  • Summary discussion will occur with the whole class.
    • Designated speaker for each small group will synthesis group points.
    • Other team members can bring up or clarify group ideas.

Discussion Points


  1. How is the study of computer science (CS) relevant to a liberal arts college education?
  2. What aspects of CS may be less relevant or outside the scope of CS?

Chapter 1

  1. In common language, what are the basic principles of optimal stopping?
  2. What is the dynamic behind the “Turkey Drop” phenomenon?
  3. What situations in your own life remind you of the “Turkey Drop” phenomenon?
  4. How is optimal stopping a fundamental issue what it means to be alive?
  5. How can you apply the principle of optimal stopping to improve your own life?

Chapter 2

  1. What are some specific multi-arm bandits situations in your own life?
  2. Reflecting on the Explore/Exploit framework, and the tendency for a person’s network to diminish over time, how might you strategize to improve the quality of your life in the future?

Chapter 3

  1. What situations in human society are similar to debeaking chickens? What are some of the “beaks” in your own social networks?
  2. How could you consider tranforming a competitve team sport such as baseball or basketball from a “fight” into a “race”?

Chapter 4

  1. Using the library shelving strategy as inspiration, what common campus environments could benefit from an LRU caching strategy?
  2. Have you found purposeful forgetting useful in your own life?

Chapter 5

  1. What are some examples of how you optimize your life based on predicting long vs. short length tasks?
  2. How can the principle of interrupt coalescing be applied to your life? Give a few concrete examples.