Here’s how computer science can solve the most human of problems:

  • Minimize regret and maximize happiness: How much time will you have to “exploit”? If it’s a lot, spend more time “exploring.” If time is short, emphasize “exploiting.” For example dudes and dudettes if you’ve just moved to a new city, try a different restaurant every night for a while. If you’re about to move out of a city, stick to your favorites. And you can apply this principle to many different areas of life from jobs to meeting new people. Mr Google says “…exploration necessarily leads to being let down on most occasions. Shifting the bulk of one’s attention to one’s favorite things should increase quality of life. And it seems like it does: Carstensen has found that older people are generally more satisfied with their social networks, and often report levels of emotional well-being that are higher than those of younger adults.” This explains why some older folks are set in their ways or in gangsta wise Dom talk “they don’t fix what ain’t broken.”
  • Not Organizing your office: If you’ve met me. You know, I’m not the cleanest rat in the sewer. Therefore I’m proud of learning about this one. Science deems that earring on the side of messiness. Searching often beats sorting. But “cache” the stuff you frequently use with piles. (Apologies to Martha Stewart.) Mr Google says “The basic principle is this: the effort expended on sorting materials is just a preemptive strike against the effort it’ll take to search through them later. What the precise balance should be depends on the exact parameters of the situation, but thinking about sorting as valuable only to support future search tells us something surprising: Err on the side of messiness. Sorting something that you will never search is a complete waste; searching something you never sorted is merely inefficient.” Logan: 1. Neat freak: 0. I’m not saying you should now be messy. All I’m saying is that if you’re building up anxiety about being too messy. In a quiet zen voice “Let it go. You’ll be happier anyways.”
  • Stop overthinking: Use “early stopping.” Mr Google states “If you have high uncertainty and limited data, then do stop early by all means. If you don’t have a clear read on how your work will be evaluated, and by whom, then it’s not worth the extra time to make it perfect with respect to your own (or anyone else’s) idiosyncratic guess at what perfection might be. The greater the uncertainty, the bigger the gap between what you can measure and what matters, the more you should watch out for overfitting— that is, the more you should prefer simplicity, and the earlier you should stop. When you’re truly in the dark, the best-laid plans will be the simplest.” All in take a timer. Set it for ten minutes and pull that trigger and stop trying to find the “perfect fix.” Your happiness depends on it. 
  • Find your dream home: Uh oh Remember the best and grab the first place that tops that one. (Also works for finding parking spots.) Lets Bring in Mrs Google and see what she says in a robotic like voice “If you want the best odds of getting the best apartment, spend 37% of your apartment hunt (eleven days, if you’ve given yourself a month for the search) noncommittally exploring options. Leave the checkbook at home; you’re just calibrating. But after that point, be prepared to immediately commit— deposit and all— to the very first place you see that beats whatever you’ve already seen. This is not merely an intuitively satisfying compromise between looking and leaping. It is the provably optimal solution.” In other words. Set up that stop watch and STOP once it goes off. Time actually can make it break our happiness. 

So the BIG QUESTION; How do you find your soulmate? Once again, that’s an optimal stopping problem…

How many people (roughly) are you willing to date? What’s 37% of that number? Go out on that many dates, and politely tell those people, “No, thanks.” But remember the best of the bunch. Then keep dating until you meet someone better than that “best” one. And that’s the person you want to focus on. But…

Ouch.

Sounds kinda cold, callous and terribly unromantic, doesn’t it? You’re probably right. Computer science can’t solve all of our human problems — and nor should we expect it to. At least I don’t think it will. 

My high school girlfriend didn’t know it, but she was probably using the “optimal stopping” algorithm. I was one of the first guys she met at school. I was sophomore and she was a tennis player whom transferred schools so she could play with a better coach. Anyways I’m guessing I was the “best” of her 37%. And it’s safe to say subsequent dating didn’t reveal a better candidate…

So she circled back. And that was the best thing for both of us. The truly “optimal” algorithm.

So with all this said, Computer science has some pretty good solutions we can learn from. But sometimes the math doesn’t work. Sometimes you need to go with your gut. Or with your heart. Sometimes the heart can spew out better results then the biggest fastest most powerful computer ever could.