John Larry Kelly Jr.

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John L. Kelly

John Larry Kelly Jr. (December 26, 1923 – March 18, 1965), was a scientist who worked at Bell Labs. He is best known for formulating the Kelly criterion, a formula to determine what proportion of wealth to risk in a sequence of positive expected value bets to maximize the rate of return.[1]

Early life[edit]

He was born in Corsicana, Texas. He spent four years in the US Navy as a pilot during World War II before entering the University of Texas at Austin. He graduated with a PhD in Physics in 1953.

Speech synthesis: Enter Hal 9000[edit]

In 1961, Kelly and colleagues Carol Lochbaum and Lou Gerstman created one of the most famous moments in the history of Bell Telephone Laboratories by using an IBM 704 computer to synthesize speech.[2][3] Their voice recorder synthesizer vocoder recreated the song Daisy Bell, with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews. Arthur C. Clarke of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame visited his friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility and heard this remarkable speech synthesis demonstration. Clarke was so impressed that he used it in one of the climactic scenes of his novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey,[4] when the HAL 9000 computer sings the same song as it is being disabled by astronaut Dave Bowman.[5]

The Las Vegas connection: Information theory and its applications to Game theory[edit]

John Kelly was an associate of Claude Shannon at Bell Labs. Together they developed a Game theory type method based on the principles of information theory developed by Shannon.[6] It is reported that Shannon and his wife Betty went to Las Vegas with M.I.T. mathematician Ed Thorp, and made very successful forays in roulette and blackjack using this method, later called the Kelly criterion, making a fortune as detailed in the book Fortune's Formula by William Poundstone[7] and corroborated by the writings of Elwyn Berlekamp,[8] Kelly's research assistant in 1960 and 1962.[7] Shannon and Thorp also applied the same theory to the stock market with even better results.[9]

Over the decades, John Kelly's scientific formula has become a part of mainstream investment theory[10] and the most prominent users, well-known and successful billionaire investors Warren Buffett,[11][12] Bill Gross[13] and Jim Simons use Kelly methods. Warren Buffett met Thorp the first time in 1968. It's said that Buffett uses a form of the Kelly criterion in deciding how much money to put into various holdings. Also Elwyn Berlekamp had applied the same logical algorithm for Axcom Trading Advisors, an alternative investment management company, that he led. Berlekamp's company was acquired by Jim Simons and his Renaissance Technologies Corp hedge fund in 1992, whereafter its investment instruments were either subsumed into (or essentially renamed as) Renaissance's flagship Medallion Fund.


Kelly died of a stroke on a Manhattan sidewalk at the age of 41 in 1965.[14] It is reported that he never used his own criterion to make money.[14]


Cited references[edit]

  1. ^ Kelly, J. L. (1956). "A New Interpretation of Information Rate". Bell System Technical Journal. 35 (4): 917–926. doi:10.1002/j.1538-7305.1956.tb03809.x.
  2. ^ John, Mullennix (2010-01-31). Computer Synthesized Speech Technologies: Tools for Aiding Impairment: Tools for Aiding Impairment. IGI Global. ISBN 9781615207268.
  3. ^ Lambert, Bruce (1992-03-21). "Louis Gerstman, 61, a Specialist In Speech Disorders and Processes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  4. ^ Arthur C. Clarke online Biography Archived 1997-12-11 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Text-To-Speech Synthesis". Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  6. ^ John Kelly by William Poundstone website
  7. ^ a b Poundstone, William: Fortune's Formula : The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street
  8. ^ Elwyn Berlekamp (Kelly's Research Assistant) Bio details
  9. ^ William Poundstone website
  10. ^ Zenios, S. A.; Ziemba, W. T. (2006), Handbook of Asset and Liability Management, North Holland, ISBN 978-0-444-50875-1
  11. ^ Pabrai, Mohnish (2007), The Dhandho Investor: The Low-Risk Value Method to High Returns, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-470-04389-9
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Thorp, E. O. (September 2008), "The Kelly Criterion: Part II", Wilmott Magazine
  14. ^ a b Business Week website article: Get Rich: Here's The Math

General references[edit]

External links[edit]