Monday, November 20, 2006

Predicting the Future

Last Friday, I read this article on La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper. The article discusses the special issue of the New Scientist that marks its 50th birthday. For this special issue, the New Scientist asked about 70 "brilliant minds" (their words) to take a peek at their crystal balls, and predict what science will have brought us by the year 2056.

A few well-known scientists talk about mathematics and computing. In fact, even one of the mathematics contributions focus on computer science! Tim Gowers' prediction discusses the P versus NP problem. He writes:

There are about half a dozen problems that almost all mathematicians agree are supremely important. One that I particularly like is the "P = NP" problem. ....

This problem gets to the heart of mathematics, because mathematical research itself has the property I have described: it seems to be easier to check that a proof is correct than to discover it in the first place. Therefore, if we found a solution to the P = NP problem it would profoundly affect our understanding of mathematics, and would rank alongside the famous undecidability results of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing.
Thanks for the further publicity Timothy!

As for Gregory Chaitin, he went on record as saying that:

In my own field, I hope the current desiccated, formal approach has died out and people are more adventurous and creative.
I cannot believe that this statement will win him many friends :-) I, for one, am overawed to live in a research world which is full of very creative people. Sure, the heights of "creativity" are the realm of a chosen few, but one should never underestimate the importance of contributing small bricks of knowledge to the scientific enterprise. If everybody just looked for the next quantum leap in a field all of the time, the result will probably be stagnation.

I'll try to get hold of a copy of that number of the New Scientist.

On a local note, I had my own personal peek at my crystal ball last October, when I forecast that the rector of Reykjavík University will be chosen as one of the candidates to run for parliament at the next Icelandic elections. It did not take special powers of predictions to come to that conclusion. I am eagerly waiting to see who the next rector will be. Above all, I hope that the new rector will be "research friendly".

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