Biweekly links for 01/11/2010

  • Carl Zimmer: Science Writing Workshop Later This Month
    • Carl Zimmer is teaching a one-week science writing workshop for science grad students.
  • Martin Rees: A Level Playing Field
    • “In 2002, three Indian mathematicians (Manindra Agrewal, and his two students Neeraj Kayal and Nitin Saxena) invented a faster algorithm for factoring large numbers — an advance that could be crucial for code-breaking. They posted their results on the Web. Such was the interest that within just a day, 20000 people had downloaded the work, which became the topic of hastily-convened discussions in many centres of mathematical research around the world.

      This episode — offering instant global recognition to two young Indian students — offers a stark contrast with the struggles of a young Indian genius a hundred years ago. Srinivasa Ramanujan, a clerk in Bombay, mailed long screeds of of mathematical formulae to G H Hardy, a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge.”

  • Brian Eno: The ‘Authentic’ Has Replaced The Reproducible
    • “I notice that, as the Net provides free or cheap versions of things, ‘the authentic experience’ — the singular experience enjoyed without mediation — becomes more valuable. I notice that more attention is given by creators to the aspects of their work that can’t be duplicated. The ‘authentic’ has replaced the reproducible.

      I notice that almost all of us haven’t thought about the chaos that would ensue if the Net collapsed.

      I notice that my daily life has been changed more by my mobile phone than by the Internet.”

  • Clay Shirky on how the internet is changing the way we think
    • “It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out…. Given what we have today, the Internet could easily become Invisible High School, with a modicum of educational material in an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions. We could, however, also use it as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy.”
  • Danny Hillis on how the net is changing how we think
    • “More and more decisions are made by the emergent interaction of multiple communicating systems, and these component systems themselves are constantly adapting, changing the way they work. This is the real impact of the Internet: by allowing adaptive complex systems to interoperate, the Internet has changed the way we make decisions. More and more, it is not individual humans who decide, but an entangled, adaptive network of humans and machines.

      To understand how the Internet encourages this interweaving of complex systems, you need to appreciate how it has changed the nature of computer programming. Back in the twentieth century, a programmer had the opportunity to exercise absolute control within a bounded world with precisely defined rules. They were able to tell their computers exactly what to do. Today, programming usually involves linking together complex systems developed by others, without understanding exactly how they work.”

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  1. “In 2002, three Indian mathematicians (Manindra Agrewal, and his two students Neeraj Kayal and Nitin Saxena) invented a faster algorithm for factoring large numbers”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but afaik the AKS-algorithm has nothing to do with factoring integers, but focuses solely on deciding primality. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the AKS-algorithm is ‘faster’. Sure, it’s the first general primality test that is deterministic and can be proven to be polynomial, but there are other tests that are faster, assuming widely believed conjectures. So while it was a theoretical breakthrough, I’m not sure if it’s used that much in practice

  2. Woett – Note that I’m quoting someone (Martin Rees). When I first read his comments I winced slightly, for exactly the reason you mention: AKS proposed the first provably deterministic time primality test, not a method for factoring. But Rees’ larger point about the connection of AKS to the wider world is very interesting. 100 years ago, AKS would likely have remained unknown.

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