Physics + Math

05
Mar

Computers making inroads in field of mathematics

Natalie Wolchover, writing for the Simons Foundation:

Anyone who relies on calculators or spreadsheets might be surprised to learn that mathematicians have not universally embraced computers. To many in the field, programming a machine to prove a triangle identity — or to solve problems that have yet to be cracked by hand — moves the goalposts of a beloved 3,000-year-old game. Deducing new truths about the mathematical universe has almost always required intuition, creativity and strokes of genius, not plugging-and-chugging. In fact, the need to avoid nasty calculations (for lack of a computer) has often driven discovery, leading mathematicians to find elegant symbolic techniques like calculus. To some, the process of unearthing the unexpected, winding paths of proofs, and discovering new mathematical objects along the way, is not a means to an end that a computer can replace, but the end itself.

But as Wolchover notes, that’s starting to change.