Introduction to Probability


This book is an outgrowth of our involvement in teaching an introductory probability course ("Probabilistic Systems Analysis") at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The course is attended by a large number of students with diverse backgrounds, and a broad range of interests. They span the entire spectrum from freshmen to beginning graduate students, and from the engineering school to the school of management. Accordingly, we have tried to strike a balance between simplicity in exposition and sophistication in analytical reasoning. Our key aim has been to develop the ability to construct and analyze probabilistic models in a manner that combines intuitive understanding and mathematical precision.

In this spirit, some of the more mathematically rigorous analysis has been just sketched or intuitively explained in the text, so that complex proofs do not stand in the way of an otherwise simple exposition. At the same time, some of this analysis is developed (at the level of advanced calculus) in theoretical problems, that are included at the end of the corresponding chapter. Furthermore, some of the subtler mathematical issues are hinted at in footnotes addressed to the more attentive reader.

The book covers the fundamentals of probability theory (probabilistic models, discrete and continuous random variables, multiple random variables, and limit theorems), which are typically part of a first course on the subject. It also contains, in Chapters 4-6 a number of more advanced topics, from which an instructor can choose to match the goals of a particular course. In particular, in Chapter 4, we develop transforms, a more advanced view of conditioning, sums of random variables, least squares estimation, and the bivariate normal distribution. Furthermore, in Chapters 5 and 6, we provide a fairly detailed introduction to Bernoulli, Poisson, and Markov processes.

Our M.I.T. course covers all seven chapters in a single semester, with the exception of the material on the bivariate normal (Section 4.7), and on continuous-time Markov chains (Section 6.5). However, in an alternative course, the material on stochastic processes could be omitted, thereby allowing additional emphasis on foundational material, or coverage of other topics of the instructor's choice.

Our most notable omission in coverage is an introduction to statistics. While we develop all the basic elements of Bayesian statistics, in the form of Bayes' rule for discrete and continuous models, and least squares estimation, we do not enter the subjects of parameter estimation, or non-Bayesian hypothesis testing.

The problems that supplement the main text are divided in three categories:

We would like to acknowledge our debt to several people who contributed in various ways to the book. Our writing project began when we assumed responsibility for a popular probability class at M.I.T. that our colleague Al Drake had taught for several decades. We were thus fortunate to start with an organization of the subject that had stood the test of time, a lively presentation of the various topics in Al's classic textbook, and a rich set of material that had been used in recitation sessions and for homework. We are thus indebted to Al Drake for providing a very favorable set of initial conditions.

We are thankful to the several colleagues who have either taught from the draft of the book at various universities or have read it, and have provided us with valuable feedback. In particular, we thank Ibrahim Abou Faycal, Gustavo de Veciana, Eugene Feinberg, Bob Gray, Muriel Medard, Jason Papastavrou, Ilya Pollak, David Tse, and Terry Wagner.

The teaching assistants for the M.I.T. class have been very helpful. They pointed out corrections to various drafts, they developed problems and solutions suitable for the class, and through their direct interaction with the student body, they provided a robust mechanism for calibrating the level of the material.

Reaching thousands of bright students at M.I.T. at an early stage in their studies was a great source of satisfaction for us. We thank them for their valuable feedback and for being patient while they were taught from a textbook-in-progress.

Last but not least, we are grateful to our families for their support throughout the course of this long project.

Dimitri P. Bertsekas

John N. Tsitsiklis

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