"The New Math" Session

by Claire Bilodeau, Laval University


One of the sessions the E&R Section sponsored at the Annual Meeting in New York was titled "The New Math: Unorthodox Methods in Actuarial Science." The whole idea was to present academic results to practitioners who, in turn, could put them to good use.

The turnout was great: 82 people according to the official statistics! As the moderator, I admit I was impressed! Maybe, it intimidated the audio–visual equipment as well. We had technical problems which, even with the technician's help, we could not figure out before the start of the session… That meant the session did not go as smoothly as planned, as we had to change computers at the last minute and load presentations between speakers.

The first speaker was Elias Shiu. He spoke about immunization. He started with some simple, fairly well–known definitions, moved on to the general immunization problem and quickly catapulted us into the realm of theorems needed to solve that problem. The pace picked up in a nice fashion and I suspect most got lost as some point or other. Thank goodness, the expert included a list of references at the end of his talk.

The second speaker was Arnold Shapiro. He spoke about fuzzy logic and its many uses. His presentation was the one most affected by the technical problems we experienced as the computer we ended up using could not handle all the features and examples he had prepared. This did not make it less entertaining, but it likely took away some of the educational value. I dare hope people followed up with the speaker or looked up the several papers he referenced.

The third and final speaker was Chuck Fuhrer. He spoke about kernel smoothing. After providing some background and definitions, he went on to present live examples. Fortunately, the backup computer could handle the Excel applications! The more technical stuff was made available in an appendix which people could read afterwards. A list of references was also provided for those who wanted to know more.

All in all, the technical problems cast a cloud over the presentations. Moreover, in hindsight, each of the speakers could have filled up a whole session on his own. Still, the session did not pretend to be a very detailed look into practical applications of theoretical results, but rather a high–level overview of the good uses to which academic work can be put.

Some excellent, insightful questions were asked during, and after, the presentation. I believe everyone, including the presenters and myself, learnt something new that morning! Including never to trust technology too much!