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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hive Mind and Collaboration… Driving the Future


(via Waugsberg/Wikimedia)
Yitang Zhang's recent proof regarding twin primes keeps generating press pieces… including some good recent ones for lay readers, first from the Wall Street Journal:

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/fodS89bFVdFCaO17Sh9fLN/From-70-million-to-two.html

and then from popular science-writer Amir Aczel over at HuffPost Science:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amir-aczel/the-mystery-of-the-primes_b_3391666.html

And finally, this update from New Scientist:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23644-game-of-proofs-boosts-prime-pair-result-by-millions.html

(I think all 3 of these are worth a gander as they touch on different aspects of the twin prime/Zhang story.)

Things are moving fast… Zhang's work was quickly taken up by a bevy of individual mathematicians, and now also by the Polymath Project group (a Web collaboration of many mathematicians). Zhang's computed upper limit of ~70 million has, in just a few brief weeks, been reduced to under 400,000! (the latest figure I've seen, but it will keep changing). Phenomenal!

The Polymath Project (largely inspired by math icons Tim Gowers and Terry Tao) is, to my mind, an example of the premier use of the internet, to utilize the 'hive mind,' as never before in history, to solve or work on significant problems (in this case math, but it can be applied to other subject areas). In the past, dozens or perhaps 100s of individuals could be brought together to work somewhat collaboratively on a problem, but today 100s of 1000s can be easily drawn from. Books have already been written about the power of the "hive mind" (some quite critical). Solutions to many problems will come at a warp-speed previously unattainable. Can the 'hive mind' be cluttered with junk science… pseudoscience… quackery… tomfoolery… Yes, of course, GOBS of it;  But the beauty of the hive is how rapidly and efficiently it can sort through masses of information and ignorance to arrive at the productive core. "Open access," "crowdsourcing," collaboration, and the hive, are the wave of the future.

My current post over at MathTango is a doff-of-the-cap to those leading the way in the current evolution (revolution???) of math education, with a focus, by the end, again on how rapid/broad Web collaboration is currently leading the way to shape the 'flipped classrooms' and MOOCs of the near future… and, obviously, so much more.



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