About: Secrets and lies

In three lectures Hannah unmasks the hidden numbers, rules and patterns that secretly control our daily lives, in ways we could never imagine.

  • red haired woman on black background with computer code projected onto her

    Dr Hannah Fry, 2019 Christmas Lecturer

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson

We think our lives unfold thanks to a mix of luck and our own personal choices. But that’s not quite true. An unseen layer of mathematics governs every aspect of our world. 

Life’s most astonishing miracles can be understood with probability. Big data dictates many of the hot new fashions we follow. Even our choices on Netflix, or our choice of who we marry, is secretly influenced by computer algorithms. 

In a series of lectures packed with mind-boggling demos and live experiments, Hannah shows us how to decode life’s hidden numbers; to help us all make better choices, sort fact from fiction, and lead happier lives. But she also warns how our unwavering faith in figures can lead to disaster when we get the sums wrong.  

Unravelling suspicious statistics, engineering meltdowns and deadly data, Hannah asks big ethical questions about the trust we place in maths today. Are there any problems math’s can’t or shouldn’t solve? Do computer algorithms have too much control over our lives and privacy? Could A.I. decide if someone lives or dies?  

Ultimately, by probing the limits of maths and its role in our modern world, Hannah ends up revealing and celebrating what makes our human minds so unique. 

In Lecture one, Hannah seeks to find the luckiest member of the audience. It seems a sensible plan. The biggest events in your life – finding the perfect partner or a job, staying healthy and happy – rely on a huge element of luck. Or does probability allow us to understand and predict complex systems? 

In Lecture two, we see how ‘chaining probabilities together’ help us to understand even more complex systems. Through entertaining examples, Hannah shows how data-gobbling algorithms have taken over our lives and now control almost everything we do without us even realising. 

In Lecture three, Hannah looks at why maths can fail and asks what the limits of maths are. Are there problems maths can’t or shouldn’t solve? And in an age where ‘fake news’ abounds and statistics can be twisted to prove anything, should we always trust in numbers? 

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films Ltd for BBC Four. Filmed in the iconic lecture theatre at the Royal Institution, they are broadcast on three nights between Christmas and New Year.