To sum it up, this man is a mathematical mastermind.
In 1994, Andrew Wiles shocked the math world when he published proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, which is a problem that had bewildered scholars for more than 300 years. On Tuesday, the 62-year-old Oxford professor was awarded the prestigious 2016 Abel Prize for his work by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Tech Times reports.
In May he will fly to Oslo where the Crown Prince Haakon of Norway will present him with the award and a $700,000 check for the accomplishment that the academy described as “an epochal moment for mathematics,” according to The Telegraph.
“Wiles is one of very few mathematicians — if not the only one — whose proof of a theorem has made international headline news,” said the Abel Committee.
It is a tremendous honor to receive the Abel Prize and to join the previous Laureates who have made such outstanding contributions to the field. Fermat’s equation was my passion from an early age, and solving it gave me an overwhelming sense of fulfillment. It has always been my hope that my solution of this age-old problem would inspire many young people to take up mathematics and to work on the many challenges of this beautiful and fascinating subject.
In 1637, the French mathematician, Pierre de Fermat, formulated the theorem that Wiles cracked. It states that there are no whole number solutions to the equation x^n + y^n = z^n, when n is greater than 2.
According to CNN, Wiles has been fascinated with the theorem since he was 10 years old and stumbled upon it in a library.
“I knew from that moment that I would never let it go,” he told The Abel Prize. “I had to solve it.”
“What amazed me was that there were some unsolved problems that someone who was 10 years old could understand and even try. And I tried it throughout my teenage years. When I first went to college I thought I had a proof, but it turned out to be wrong.”
While working at Princeton University, he spent seven years secretly working on the theorem until he finally found proof it in the early ’90s. By solving the problem he opened the door to a new era in his field, being that problems that once seemed inaccessible “were now open,” he told Oxford.
Now he is being rewarded for this incredible work, telling Oxford in the video below:
“You never forget the moment you have these great breakthroughs — it’s what you live for.”
The Harvard PhD and data scientist talks about her new book and ponders how peoples fear and trust of math is akin to worshipping God
People keep suggesting that democracy is alive and well because we have two parties that dont agree on everything. I think thats total bullshit. When you meet Cathy ONeil, a data scientist and author, you quickly discover she isnt exactly convinced about the health of the USs electoral system.
A Harvard PhD graduate in mathematics and actively involved in the Occupy movement, ONeils experience is crucial to her new book: Weapons of Math Destruction describes the way that math can be manipulated by biases and affect every aspect of our lives.
As well as questioning the two-party system in the US, shes also looked at how mathematics has been used in the housing and banking sector to affect our lives via her blog mathbabe for more than a decade. So whats her problem with good old American democracy in 2016?
Democracy is more than a two-party system. Its an informed public and thats whats at risk, she says. The debates are where you would hope to find out real information, but theyre just talking about their dick size The algorithms are making it harder and harder to get good information. And algorithms, rule-based processes for solving mathematical problems, are being applied to more and more areas of our lives.
This idea is at the heart of ONeils thinking on why algorithms can be so harmful. In theory, mathematics is neutral two plus two equals four regardless of what anyone wishes the answer was. But in practice, mathematical algorithms can be formulated and tweaked based on powerful interests.
ONeil saw those interests first hand when she was a quantitative analyst on Wall Street. Starting in 2007, ONeil spent four years in finance, two of them working for a hedge fund. There she saw the use of weapons of math destruction, a term ONeil uses to describe algorithms that are important, secret and destructive. The algorithms that ultimately caused the financial crisis meet all of those criteria they affected large numbers of people, were entirely opaque and destroyed lives.
I left disgusted by finance because I thought of it as a rigged system and it was rigged for the insiders, says ONeil. I was ashamed by that as a mathematician I love math and I think math is a tool for good.
Among the many examples of powerful formulas that ONeil cites in her book, political polling doesnt come up, even though this election cycle has made pollings power more talked about than ever before. So is it dangerous? Could polling be a weapon of math destruction?
She pauses Im not sure then she pauses some more. I think polling is a weapon of math destruction, she says. Nobody really understands it, its incredibly widespread and powerful. We discuss the success of Nate Silver, the founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight (a site I spent almost two years working at). Silver has positioned himself as one of the few people who does understand polling, and as such hes been christened as a soothsayer and savant. Were desperate for math answers, which is part of the reason we ended up here, according to ONeil.
You dont see a lot of skepticism, she says. The algorithms are like shiny new toys that we cant resist using. We trust them so much that we project meaning on to them.
That desperation is potentially very damaging to democracy. Increasingly the public is informed about polling data, not policy information, when deciding who to elect. Its self-referential, ONeil explains.
Like so many algorithms, political polls have a feedback loop the more we hear a certain candidate is ahead in the polls, the more we recognize their name and the more we see them as electorally viable.
ONeils book explains how other mathematical models do a similar thing such as the ones used to measure the likelihood an individual will relapse into criminal behavior. When someone is classed as high risk, theyre more likely to get a longer sentence and find it harder to find a job when they eventually do get out. That person is then more likely to commit another crime, and so the model looks like it got it right.
And then there are those biases. Contrary to popular opinion that algorithms are purely objective, ONeil explains in her book that models are opinions embedded in mathematics. Think Trump is a hopeless candidate? That will affect your calculations. Think black American men are all criminal thugs? That affects the models being used in the criminal justice system, too.
Ultimately algorithms, according to ONeil, reinforce discrimination and widen inequality, using peoples fear and trust of mathematics to prevent them from asking questions. The seemingly contradictory words fear and trust leap out to me: how many other things do we both fear and trust, except perhaps for fate or God? ONeil agrees. I think it has a few hallmarks of worship we turn off parts of our brain, we somehow feel like its not our duty, not our right to question this.
But sometimes its hard for non-statisticians to know which questions to ask. ONeils advice is to be persistent. People should feel more entitled to push back and ask for evidence, but they seem to fold a little too quickly when theyre told that its complicated, she says. If someone feels that they some formula has affected their lives, at the very least they should be asking, how do you know that this is legal? That it isnt discriminatory?
But often we dont even know where to look for those important algorithms, because by definition the most dangerous ones are also the most secretive. Thats why the catalogue of case studies in ONeils book are so important; shes telling us where to look.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy is out now and published by Crown
The Big Bang Theory is a show about scientists, and it bolsters its academic credibility by bringing in guest stars from the world (galaxy?) of science to play themselves, as well as casting actors with graduate degrees to play characters on the show.
I’m not qualified to rank these guest stars on smarts, because I failed physics in high school. But as a professional clickbaiter, I am qualified to rank them based on how annoying I find their public persona. So without further ado, here are the 11 smartest people who have appeared on The Big Bang Theory, ranked from most to least annoying.
11. Neil deGrasse Tyson – America’s most famous astrophysicistNeil deGrasse Tyson appears in the Season 4 episode “The Apology Insufficiency.” Sheldon — and many others IRL — has beef with him because he famously demoted Pluto from planetary status to a mere rock floating in space (technically to “dwarf planet”). Tyson is a real smuggo with a bad habit of “actually“-ing everyone into a stupor, which earns him the low spot on this list.
10. Bill Nye – The Science Guy appeared in the Season 7 episode “The Proton Displacement” as Sheldon’s new TV scientist friend in an attempt to make Professor Proton jealous. Bill Nye the Science Guy is fine and likable and uses his platform for good and all that, but he just seems too desperate for attention, you know? Like, we get it, Bill Nye, you’re the Science Guy.
9. Ira Flatow – Ira Flatow is public radio’s most prominent science host. He’s been explaining science to us dingbats as we drive around on Friday afternoons since 1991 on Science Friday. He’s appeared on TBBT twice, via voice only in Season 3 and in person in Season 7’s “The Discovery Dissipation,” when he interviewed Sheldon on his radio show. He scores relatively low here because he paid $145,531 to settle allegations his company misused a federal grant, which doesn’t look so good on the resum.
8. Mike Massimino – Mike Massimino is an astronaut who made two trips into space to work on the Hubble Space Telescope. He appeared on TBBT several times as Howard’s outer space sherpa. There’s nothing wrong with Mike Massimino, but he’s a close associate of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s, so he loses points for that.
7. George Smoot – Astrophysicist George Smoot is notable as the only person in history to win both a Nobel Prize and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? He appeared in Season 2’s “The Terminator Decoupling,” in which he turned down Sheldon’s offer to collaborate with him on a research project.
6. Elon Musk – The visionary founder of SpaceX and Tesla appeared in Season 9’s Thanksgiving episode, “The Platonic Permutation,” volunteering with the gang at a soup kitchen. He’s annoying because he’s trying to colonize Mars when he should be using his brainpower to fix problems here on Earth.
5. Steve Wozniak – The co-founder of Apple appeared in the Season 4 episode “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification,” in which he autographs Sheldon’s ancient Apple II computer. Woz is interesting because choices he made in his career have left him with hundreds of millions of dollars rather than billions.
4. Mayim Bialik – Yes, Amy is super-smart in real life, too! Mayim Bialik has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, just like her character. It’s good that she has something to fall back on in case this acting thing (and the millions she makes from the incredibly profitableBig Bang) doesn’t work out.
3. Buzz Aldrin – Buzz Aldrin was the second person to walk on the moon. Now he’s the third person on this list. He once punched a conspiracy theorist who was harassing him with accusations he didn’t walk on the moon. It’s one of the best videos on the internet. He appeared in the Season 6 episode “The Holographic Excitation” handing out space-themed candies (Milky Ways, Mars Bars, etc.) to trick-or-treaters.
2. Danica McKellar – Danica McKellar didn’t act much in the years after playing Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years as she focused on her studies — she earned a degree in mathematics from UCLA in 1998. She has since authored several books encouraging teenage girls to excel in math. She appeared in Season 3’s “The Psychic Vortex” as a potential love interest for Raj.
1. Stephen Hawking – Stephen Hawking sold 10 million copies of his book A Brief History of Time by making cosmology, the most mind-bending subject imaginable, digestible by the masses. You have to be so smart to make stuff that complicated comprehensible to lay people. So shout out to Stephen Hawking. He first appeared in Season 5’s “The Hawking Excitation,” where he made Sheldon faint with embarrassment by pointing out a crucial arithmetic error in Sheldon’s paper, and has since appeared a few more tines, most recently in the 200th episode singing happy birthday to Sheldon.
Martin Gardner, who wrote dozens of books of recreational mathematics, would have been 102 last Friday. In the years since he died, his friends and fans have started a global movement called Celebration of Mind, which encourages people to put on puzzle-themed events on or around the date of his birthday.
Please celebrate your minds right now by attempting these two gems from Gardners archive. One is straightforward. The other may take you a little longer.
1. At the hardware store, you are told that 1 will cost you 50p, 12 will cost 1 and the price of 144 is 1.50. What are you buying?
But there is undoubtedly pent-up enthusiasm for the computer.
Unlike other budget computers – such as the Raspberry Pi – the machine is meant to be programmed via the web, rather than being connected to a keyboard and screen of its own.
So, what can it do?
As a standalone device it can be made to flash its LEDs in sequence and take readings from several built-in sensors, but when added to other hardware the possibilities are limitless.
Below are seven projects by some of those who got their hands on the tech early.
Sent into the stratosphere
The initial batch of Micro Bits were very limited in number. But that didn’t stop one school launching their copy more than 32km (20 miles) into the air.
One of the pupils at Rishworth School in West Yorkshire wrote a program that used a heat sensor to log changes in temperature and show the current reading on the computer’s LEDs. Her classmates then attached the kit to a helium balloon and let it fly upwards.
“Her code measured the temperature in the stratosphere, which is pretty awesome,” recalled the teacher in charge, Peter Bell.
“The kids were absolutely buzzing about the whole project.”
But he added that anyone thinking of repeating the initiative should not do so lightly.
“We had to get civil aviation authority approval and were given a two-hour window to launch,” he explained.
“And on its descent, it initially fell for 14 seconds travelling at up to 180mph [290km/h].
“At one point National Air Traffic Services apparently rerouted all the aircraft around Nottingham because there was essentially a missile travelling towards the airspace, but the parachute deployed when it got to an atmosphere where enough air was hitting it.”
The equipment was later recovered from a farmer’s field.
Micro Bits are by design small enough to fit inside a child’s pocket. So, it seems a bit obtuse to try and turn them into a giant display board.
Even so, Kitronik – an electronics parts supplier involved in the Micro Bit initiative – posed itself the challenge using 1,009 prototypes it had been given access to.
The company’s director used Microsoft’s Touch Develop web interface to write three programs:
the first to hold the image data on a “master” Micro Bit and convert it into messages sent to the other computers
the second to determine which data should be sent to each of the 40 columns of computers arranged into the display
the third to pass image data from one Micro Bit to another after a brief delay so that images appeared to scroll across the screen
“I realised early on that the big challenge on this project wasn’t going to be writing the three different versions of code – though this did take a number of days – but was going to be to assemble the display,” recalled Geoff Hampson.
“Which is why we called on a team of volunteers to help wire it all up.”
A total of 230m (755ft) of wiring and 5,000 bolts were required to complete the project, which was unveiled at the Bett tech show in January.
Six students from London’s Highgate School came up with the idea of using the Micro Bit to help people with autism recognise other people’s emotional states, as part of a one-day coding challenge earlier this year.
People with the condition can struggle to read expressions and respond appropriately as a result of the disability.
The team coded the computer so that a user could scroll through a series of graphics, shown via the LEDs, of faces presenting different moods.
When they found a match they could press another button to make the LEDs state what the image represented – for example “happy”, “sad” or “angry”.
“I think it was fantastic for these students to tackle a potentially difficult and complex issue such as disability and autism,” said Holly Margerison from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which organised the Faraday Projects event.
“I also think this could be a great partnership activity, so students with and without autism could [further] work together on this product.
“One thing which strikes me is that the students clearly understand the place of coding in the world and understand the ways in which it can enhance and improve their lives.”
ARM’s in-house Micro Bit demo is deliberately simple by design.
The chip creator – whose processor architecture is used by the mini-computer – got one of its team to juggle three of the devices and streamed data from their acceleration sensors to the internet via a Bluetooth link.
To do so, they made use of Google’s new Eddystone communication protocol and then tracked the readings – recorded at a rate of 200 times a second – via a web-based application. The information was used to create a graph tracking the rate that each of the Micro Bits sped up and slowed down.
“We can detect in a program run on the Micro Bit when it is falling, and that means we can know how long it is falling for and how high we threw it,” explained Jonny Austin, one of the engineers involved.
“So, if I am juggling very unevenly you might see that every third throw I actually don’t throw one of the Micro Bits nearly as high, and that would be represented by a much flatter peak on the graph.”
In theory, he added, it should be possible to spot patterns that could help a juggler-in-training identify problems with their technique.
Pupils at Eastlea Community School in London came up with the idea of using a Micro Bit to keep a small aircraft on track as it headed toward the North Pole.
The computer was programmed to trigger one of two motors whenever the vehicle drifted off course to steer it back to its destination.
“The students came up with a working proof-of-concept but the gondola that they made was a little bit too weighty,” said their teacher Steve Richards.
“Air regulations would have also been a problem.”
But, he added, the class took these issues in their stride and are now developing a Micro Bit-steered paddle steamer boat that will make use of solar and wind energy.
Mr Richards has previously taught classes using another British low-cost computer – the Raspberry Pi – but says he believes the Micro Bit is better suited for younger age groups.
“It’s been designed at a lower level that allows children to understand more quickly the concepts that you are trying to get across,” he explained.
“With the Raspberry Pi there are a lot of things that don’t make immediate sense. So, I think the Micro Bit will make a great stepping stone that engages younger children before they want to do more serious projects that would require something like the Pi.”
The Bloodhound Project – an effort to set a new land speed record of more than 1,000mph (1,609km/h) – has its own Micro Bit spin-off.
Since the start of January, hundreds of children have been invited to carve their own model cars out of foam and blast them along a track using black-powder rockets fitted to their rears.
The computers are slotted inside to measure the rocket cars’ fastest speeds, average speeds and changes in thrust. The children then use the feedback to improve their designs.
“This is something that teachers don’t normally want to do because there is a lot of risk assessment involved,” said Graeme Lawrie, one of the organisers and director of innovation at Sevenoaks school in Kent.
“But these kind of wow factors are few and far between, and it provides the children with inspiration and enthusiasm for Stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.”
As if that wasn’t enough incentive to take part, the teams that make the fastest models are being promised a chance to have their names added to the fin of the actual Bloodhound supersonic car.
Not all the early Micro Bit projects were targeted at children or involved coding.
Dr Rebecca Fiebrink got hold of a device to use as part of her research into computer music at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The lecturer used a program called Wekinator, which teaches a computer to recognise certain inputs and map them to different sounds.
By connecting up a Micro Bit she was able to create music by twisting, tilting and drawing shapes in front of her with the mini-computer.
“One example I made was a simple drum machine that I control using tilts,” she told the BBC.
“I can also use it to recognise gestures that I draw in the air and to create more experimental sounds.
“It’s a really exciting time right now because of the growing availability of relatively cheap-to-use sensing platforms, and the Micro Bit is a great way to get started building things.”
Every now and again, we all indulge in dreams about travelling in time. Wouldnt it be wonderful to return to that specific point in the past to change a bad decision or relive an experience those halcyon days of childhood, that night you won an Oscar or to zip ahead to see how things turn out in the far future.
The mystery of time travel is full of excitement and wonder But its not science, I hear you say. You may also think that it is definitely not like any mathematics you learned at school. Well, you will be surprised to hear that it is.
At present there is a great deal of news around the discovery of gravitational waves. It is suggested that this experiment and future research could unlock the secrets of the universe. One of the reasons why physicists believe this to be true is linked to other monumental scientific discoveries in the past and the fact that we may have reached another unification moment and taken another step closer to a theory of everything.
Towards A Theory Of Everything
We have known since Isaac Newtons day that mass is inextricably linked to gravity. His unification moment was first conjectured famously while he was sitting having afternoon tea under an apple tree in Woolsthorpe, when out of the blue an apple fell on his head.
This incident made Newton think that the same force could be responsible for both the apple dropping to the ground and the moon falling towards the Earth in its orbit. He went on to show that it was true for all mass and that all bodies attract each other due to gravity. In the tabloid newspapers of the time, it was announced: We are just bodies forced to be attracted to each other by Newtons gravitational interactions and that Love is a gravitational law.
In the early 20th century, Einstein went further with his general theory of relativity and showed that mass and gravity are linked to time; yet another unification moment.
Einstein was born in 1879, and by 1905 had published a paper that would change the way we look at the world. This paper makes a fundamental change to the way we look at light. Until then, no one had thought too much about the speed of light it was just another universal constant that experimental physicists attempted to calculate with ever greater accuracy. There was little appreciation of how radically different light waves were from sound and water waves.
Einsteins theory says that if you want to slow time down essentially, to time travel you need to move fast, very fast! Imagine setting off on a mission from Earth in the year 2000, for example. You are scheduled to be away until 2032, but will be travelling at 95% the speed of light (around 285,000km a second). The amazing thing is that, on your return, your watch would tell you that it is 2010, despite it being 2032 on Earth, and youd be 22 years younger than anyone you left behind. Thats time dilation and it works at slower speeds, too, albeit to a much less profound degree.
So Lets Go
But theres a catch 285,000km a second is very, very fast. The fastest land vehicle cannot even get to 1km a second and even a spaceship when escaping Earths atmosphere is travelling at a relatively pitiful 10km a second. Even if we could reach these speeds, it is questionable whether we could survive the stress on our bodies. So time travel into the future is possible, but a bit too difficult for now. But what about the past?
I dont know about you but I always feel a bit cheated when I read articles on time travel. Im told all these facts but no one tells me how to build a time machine. So as not to cheat you, here follows a design for just such a thing, with great thanks to Professor Frank Tipler. Tipler published a paper on how to build a time machine, a Tipler Cylinder, back in 1974. This machine would enable you to travel back in time.
Batteries and a cylinder with the mass of the sun not included. NASA/SDO, CC BY
First, you need a lot of money to buy a large cylinder. When I say large, I mean very large, perhaps a 100km long. The cylinder also needs to be at least the mass of the sun, but very densely packed together. You then need to start it rotating, faster and faster, until its rotating so fast that it starts to disturb the fabric of both space and time and you would be able to detect a wash of gravity waves coming from this structure.
I also need to add a health warning, as coming close to such a dense structure would cause issues. The mass of the Earth pulls us down to its surface, but getting too close to an object this massive would be hugely dangerous it would drag you towards it and squash you flat.
If you can get round this squashing problem, however, approach the rotating cylinder and start following its spin as you get closer, strange things will start to happen. Your path, which normally inextricably moves you forward in time, changes, since moving around the cylinder in the direction of rotation will shift you back in time. The machine makes the direction of time collapse into the past, so the longer you follow the machines spin, the further back in time you will go. To reset the movement to normal, simply move away from the cylinder, go back to Earth and you will be returned to the present albeit a present in the past.
But be careful what you do there. Fiddle around with the past too much and like Marty McFly in Back To The Future you may just break up your parents first date or even ruin your chances of being born. Time can be funny like that.