Friday, August 20, 2010

What did the new PvsNP proof prove?

I normally don't like to blog about mathematical theory.  I usually leave that for the smart people and theorists.  Yet there is an interesting article out this week from the Science section of the New York Times about the new PvsNP proof from Vinay Deolalikar.  The article is not your typical topical subject matter about what the mathematicians are working on next.  The article instead is about the explosion of activity and dialogue on the internet and around the world about this proof in the mathematical community.  The author is suggesting that the likes of which have not been seen before with these types of theoretical discussions.  I would have to agree with the author.  I also find it very ironic that the Old Grey Lady is reporting on this as well.  Since really the only thing that can really be proven, as this article suggests, is that the old media is nearly dead and the new media has supplanted it.

This brings another interesting thought to how problems are solved now.  The mathematical community is closer now than it ever has been.  This is the age of online crowd sourcing.  If I have an question about Operations Research I go to OR-Exchange.  If I am looking for a professional network contact I go to LinkedIn or INFORMS.  If I need to read about the interests of the Operations Research communities I will go to their blogs.  The convergence of ideas, thoughts, and knowledge is closer now and is only going to get even closer. 

This article is one of the reasons why I am such an advocate of open source software with organizations like GNU and COIN-OR. Open source brings the best of bringing thoughts and ideas together to create a quality product.  Sure there are licensing issues.  This article is a good metaphor in that software licensing is like the "old media".  Licensing is trying to catch up with the new technology but there are still a lot of kinks to work out.  There are even suggestions now that software patents should even eliminated.  I'm not sure what will happen but I do know that open source software is driving a lot of innovation in a much shorter time frame.

So yes I find it ironic that the New York Times is reporting on this proof as if it is new news.  Maybe I'm just too close to the subject so I understand it a little better than the rest of the New York Times readers.  Yet if you are anywhere near the mathematical world you would have already seen the proof and had your own conjectures.   Even if that is the case we can prove now that information and knowledge is faster and easier to obtain than ever.

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