In probability theory, an event is said to happen almost surely (sometimes abbreviated as a.s.) if it happens with probability 1 (or Lebesgue measure 1). In other words, the set of possible exceptions may be non-empty, but it has probability 0. The concept is essentially analogous to the concept of "almost everywhere" in measure theory.
In probability experiments on a finite sample space, there is often no difference between almost surely and surely (since having a probability of 1 often entails including all the sample points). However, this distinction becomes important when the sample space is an infinite set, because an infinite set can have non-empty subsets of probability 0.
Let be a probability space. An event happens almost surely if . Equivalently, happens almost surely if the probability of not occurring is zero: . More generally, any event (not necessarily in ) happens almost surely if is contained in a null set: a subset in such that . The notion of almost sureness depends on the probability measure . If it is necessary to emphasize this dependence, it is customary to say that the event occurs P-almost surely, or almost surely .
In general, an event can happen "almost surely", even if the probability space in question includes outcomes which do not belong to the event— as the following examples illustrate.
Throwing a dart
Imagine throwing a dart at a unit square (i.e. a square with area 1) so that the dart always hits an exact point in the square, in such a way that each point in the square is equally likely to be hit.
Now, notice that since the square has area 1, the probability that the dart will hit any particular subregion of the square is equal to the area of that subregion. For example, the probability that the dart will hit the right half of the square is 0.5, since the right half has area 0.5.
Next, consider the event that "the dart hits exactly a point in the diagonals of the unit square". Since the area of the diagonals of the square is 0, the probability that the dart will land exactly on a diagonal is 0. That is, the dart will almost never land on a diagonal (equiv., it will almost surely not land on a diagonal), even if the set of points on the diagonals is not empty, and a point on a diagonal is no less possible than any other point (after all, the diagonal does contain valid outcomes of the experiment).
Tossing a coin repeatedly
Consider the case where a (possibly biased) coin is tossed, corresponding to the probability space , where the event occurs if a head is flipped, and if a tail is flipped. For this particular coin, we assume that the probability of flipping a head is , from which it follows that the complement event, that of flipping a tail, has probability .
Now, suppose that we were to conduct an experiment where the coin is tossed repeatedly, with outcomes and the assumption that each flip's outcome is independent of all the others (i.e., they are i.i.d.). Define the sequence of random variables on the coin toss space, where . i.e. each records the outcome of the th flip.
In this case, any infinite sequence of heads and tails is a possible outcome of the experiment. However, any particular infinite sequence of heads and tails has probability 0 of being the exact outcome of the (infinite) experiment. To see why, note that the i.i.d. assumption implies that the probability of flipping all heads over flips is simply . Letting yields 0, since by assumption. Note that the result is the same no matter how much we bias the coin towards heads, so long as we constrain to be strictly between 0 and 1. In fact, the same result even holds in non-standard analysis—where infinitesimal probabilities are not allowed.
Moreover, the event "the sequence of tosses contains at least one " will also happen almost surely (i.e., with probability 1). But if instead of an infinite number of flips, we stop flipping after some finite time, say 1,000,000 flips, then the probability of getting an all-heads sequence, , would no longer be 0, while the probability of getting at least one tails, , would no longer be 1 (i.e., the event is no longer almost sure).
Asymptotically almost surely
In asymptotic analysis, a property is said to hold asymptotically almost surely (a.a.s.), if over a sequence of sets, the probability converges to 1. For instance, in number theory, a large number is asymptotically almost surely composite, by the prime number theorem; and in random graph theory, the statement " is connected" (where denotes the graphs on vertices with edge probability ) is true a.a.s. when, for some
- Almost everywhere, the corresponding concept in measure theory
- Convergence of random variables, for "almost sure convergence"
- Cromwell's rule, which says that probabilities should almost never be set as zero or one
- Degenerate distribution, for "almost surely constant"
- Infinite monkey theorem, a theorem using the aforementioned terms
- List of mathematical jargon
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