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Wiki to Help Solve Millennium Problems?

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the np-complete dept.

232

MattWhitworth writes "A new wiki has been set up over at QEDen to try to gather a community to solve the Millennium Problems. The problems are seven as yet unsolved mathematical problems that continue to vex researchers today. What do you think of this effort? Will gathering a community of people help solve problems such as P=NP, or do you think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem?"

cancel ×

232 comments

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135649)

first post

Unsolved Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135651)

The requested URL (science/06/04/15/158257.shtml) was not found.

If you feel like it, mail the url, and where ya came from to pater@slashdot.org.


Why does Slashdot have so much difficulty linking from the front page to its own postings?

Re:Unsolved Problem (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135746)

It's called the "Anonymous Coward" problem in mathematics. Surprisingly, this unsolved problem didn't make it to the new wiki. We must suffer until it is solved by brute force computation or some twit fixes the code.

Re:Unsolved Problem (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135896)

"or some twit fixes the code"

haha I read that as "some twix fixes the code", quite an amusing image...

Please. . . (4, Insightful)

jd142 (129673) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135652)

3/4 of the people will argue about their misunderstanding of the problems involved, the other won't even know what the problems are but think they do. The very few people who actually do understand the problems and the underlying issues will eventually stop trying to explain what the real issue is.

Re:Please. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135676)

Exactly. That wiki has as much chance of solving those problems as this Slashdot discussion.

Re:Please. . . (5, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135679)

Will gathering a community of people help solve problems such as P=NP, or do you think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem?"

GIGO.

The quantity of GI does not effect the reality of GO.

The very few people who actually do understand the problems and the underlying issues will eventually stop trying to explain what the real issue is.

One very quickly learns the pointlessness of trying to explain to the Unskilled and Unaware of It that it would take about two years of education for them to even understand that they don't understand the issue.

And it only annoys the pig.

KFG

Re:Please. . . (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135729)

The quantity of GI does not effect the reality of GO.

On the contrary, GI certainly effects [purdue.edu] the reality of GO.

Re:Please. . . (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135750)

As soon as I read the post after hitting submit I knew you were going to show up, and really, I have only one thing to say to you, Sir:

Yes, I typed the wrong vowel; and hence the wrong word. Mea Culpa.

KFG

Re:Please. . . (1)

EZLeeAmused (869996) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135822)

And it only annoys the pig.

I think you are referring to mud wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.

Re:Please. . . (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135852)

I think you are referring to mud wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.

No. I am refering to teaching a pig to sing. It wastes your time and only annoys the pig.

KFG

Re:Please. . . (1)

defile (1059) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135704)

3/4 of the people will argue about their misunderstanding of the problems involved, the other won't even know what the problems are but think they do. The very few people who actually do understand the problems and the underlying issues will eventually stop trying to explain what the real issue is.

"Any scientist who cannot explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan"
--Kurt Vonnegut in Cat's Cradle

Re:Please. . . (4, Insightful)

dsci (658278) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135751)

"Any scientist who cannot explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan"

--Kurt Vonnegut in Cat's Cradle


Would you not say there is quite a difference from explaining what you are doing to an 8 year old child and giving sufficient information to expect that child to contribute to the work?

For example, I study reaction dynamics and intramolecular energy flow during 'fast' reactions. It is pretty easy for me to explain to children that I study chemical reactions - how things are changed from one thing to another. I could even do some demo's and talk about them in some detail.

But that's a far cry from expecting those children from being able to help me solve Navier-Stokes equations, apply classical thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics to arrive at quantitative models of deflagration explosions.

Re:Please. . . (1)

Llywelyn (531070) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135752)

I can explain most of these problems to an eight year old in at least one level of detail or another. The problem is that it is foolish to then think that eight year old could turn around and provide the insight necessary into solving these problems.

As another person put it, it would take two years of education for most people just to realize that they don't know enough about the subject.

Re:Please. . . (2, Insightful)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135767)

"Any scientist who cannot explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan" --Kurt Vonnegut in Cat's Cradle

Have you ever seen any of the threads which pop up on some forums now and again attempting to convince people that 0.9 recurring is equal to 1? It's true, but it's unintuitive - and consequently, people tend to persistently reject the idea, even with varying degrees of proof (from the 1/3 = 0.3 recurring argument, to the demonstration that it follows directly as a result of constructing the set of reals).

Such is the case with most ideas in the sciences - things often contradict what we expect, and people tend to reject them, until they have studied the field enough to see why the arguments leading to them are valid. Heck, even Newton's laws don't line up directly with our everyday experiences until we understand enough to compensate for things like air resistance.

Re:Please. . . (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135858)

Have you ever seen any of the threads which pop up on some forums ...

I learnt the futility of trying to explain simple mathematics. In a peripherally related subject, I was sucked into an interminable thread on whether "The Millennium" began in 2000 or 2001. The "2000" camp basically just followed the odometer argument; the moment the round number appears on the calendar. A significant event (as significant as any numerical symmmetry), but not a "millennium". And closer to home, the inevitable 800-post threads that occur here every time an article with the word "evolution" appears demonstrate that most people do not evaluate evidence but look for those that support their beliefs and try to discredit the rest.

Re:Please. . . (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135940)

Your statement that people will often reject things that contradict what we expect is completely untrue, the idea that people will argue with you for the hell of it is completely unfounded. It's obvious even to me that sunspots are making you say this, after all, I studied pythagoras. You could try and explain to me why you believe what you do, but I wouldn't be able to understand, which means it's wrong. Go back to IT class and leave the real science to the brave /.ers where it bleongs.

*cough*

Re:Please. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135788)

"Any scientist who cannot explain to an eight-year-old what he is doing is a charlatan"
--Kurt Vonnegut in Cat's Cradle

Sorry but Vonnegut is just wrong. Some things are complicated and cannot be explained to 8 year olds. Take mathematics for example. Most Phds in mathematics cannot be explained to other graduate students working in different branches of mathematics. So how do you expect to explain such things to an 8 year old.

Vonnegut's quote is one of those nice catchy sayings with no basis in fact.

Re:Please. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135849)

The quote is taken entirely out of context [amazon.com]

Re:Please. . . (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135800)

Scientist != Mathematician. Vonnegut would certainly never have suggested that they are equal.

A scientist's work needs to touch on reality at some point. If a scientist doesn't understand why he's doing what he's doing clearly enough to tell an eight year old, then he's lost touch with the purpose of research. Even pure scientific research is explicable. "I'm trying to find out how quickly certain bits of the stuff we're made of stick to each other." At least, that's Vonnegut's contention there. An eight year old won't ask "Why are you spending my tax dollars on this?" so a simple answer will do.

Mathematicians have no such fallback. When studying fourier transformations or the normality of a decimal expansion, the concepts involved touch on our experience nowhere. You could stretch a point and pretend that the point of your fourier research is to fit more songs on her ipod, but you're probably lying there. Some fourier research did that, but yours won't necessarily result in better compression... and that's not actually what you're trying to do. You're no engineer.

Even though I majored in Pure Mathematics, I'm aware that there are mathematicians doing work the very existence of which I'm not educated enough to understand. Any very specialized branch of mathematics forms its own little universe. A very advanced mathematician, asked about his work, will say "You know about the existence of Tupper manifolds? Well it turns out that if their order is prime, they're non-haussman. I'm trying to figure out if non-tupper manifolds are all hausmann or not." (That's all made up, of course.)

Scientists may use mathematics, but science and mathematics are very different fields.

Please. . .Press / to bail. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135754)

"The very few people who actually do understand the problems and the underlying issues will eventually stop trying to explain what the real issue is."

And then proceed to move to another forum like Kiroshin.

Re:Please. . . (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135783)

If Slashdot was a wiki even if I couldn't contribute to the math, at least I could correct the spelling of "Millennium".

Re:Please. . . (1)

penguinbrat (711309) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135844)

Very much agreed with your statement, the only way I see this actually doing any good is bringing together the brainiac's and the "Not-So-Bright's" of our world. In that the NSB's will state something so blatently stupid and obvious, that it throws the brainiacs for a loop and consequently adding a new (although completely obvious) angle to the problem. Sometimes you just need to back up, and look at things from a different angle to figure it out - the seeing the forest through the trees thing...

Slashdot editors... illiterate fuckwits (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135656)

How about spelling Millennium right in the headline? The article itself managed it.

Re:Slashdot editors... illiterate fuckwits (1)

Musteval (817324) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135793)

Uh ... they did.

Re:Slashdot editors... illiterate fuckwits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135870)

No, they fixed it later.

Frist Ps0t! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135657)

Frist Ps0t!

SlashWiki. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135660)

"Will gathering a community of people help solve problems such as P=NP, or do you think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem?"

Just look at how slashdot has helped solve global hunger, or set corrupt governments straight.

Re:SlashWiki. (1)

bj8rn (583532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135831)

Well, we haven't exactly tried, have we?

Meanwhile... (3, Funny)

hunterx11 (778171) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135667)

Kofi Annan and Jeffrey Sachs set up a wiki to solve the Millennium Development Goals which mind-bogglingly manages to be even less successful.

Re:Meanwhile... (1)

geobeck (924637) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135724)

...and BBSpot [bbspot.com] will set up a Wiki to solve the Y2K problem. 85% of this Wiki will consist of suggestions from people who don't know what the problem was, and think it sill exists. The other 15% will consist of people asking Brian Briggs [bbspot.com] how to contact Ensenam Ayele [bbspot.com] .

well, (2, Interesting)

joe 155 (937621) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135669)

or do you think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem?

(sorry about the bad spelling)
well I'm completely unqualified in every sense for these things, but being a political scientist I should be able to have a stab at the last question... Concordat's jury theorum suggests that with more people your chance of getting a right answer increases, say if everyone has about 60% chance of getting it right for example then with a few hundered people that chance should have increased to over 80%... which would lead me to believe yes it will work, still, i tend to think that the more people you have the less productive you are capable of being as people will disagree, and if the two most experienced people disagree then it could polarise the views of the less experienced people and split the project... so basically, it could go either way...

Re:well, (2, Insightful)

dsci (658278) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135706)

Does Concordat's jury theorem apply to highly specialized fields with rigorous rules like advanced mathematics?

I would think, and this is just a guess, that the qualified pool of people working on those problems is already nearly maxed out. Adding a bunch of folks that don't even 'speak the language,' as another poster mentioned, probably won't increase the odds of a solution very well.

Re:well, (1)

topham (32406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135723)

Amateurs have always positively contributes to the sciences.

If you look through history you will find that the established scientists were often preventing the release of new ideas. Whether this be from their younger colleagues or from amateurs.

That said, the amateurs likely to be able to contribute to a solution on these problems are already aware of them and Wiki isn't likely to change that significantly. Many subjects are best done with a very small group of people, not a thousand experts, never mind ten-thousand amateurs.

Re:well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135894)

"If you look through history you will find that the established scientists were often preventing the release of new ideas."

That's not really true. You sometimes get an older scientist who is against a new idea, but they can't prevent the idea spreading. And if the idea is clearly right then any scientist will either accept it or become irrelevant. A good example is Fred Hoyle and big bang theory. He didn't accept it, yet the theory still became popular (because it explains so many observations it can't really be wrong), and Hoyle wasn't taken very seriously towards the end of his career.

The scientific power structure isn't like what you're used to. First off, there is very little power. My "boss" can disagree with me but can't stop me publishing. Seniority doesn't equate to being further up the hierarchy, quality of scientific output does. Being at the very top only means you have the ability to control the funding/hiring/firing of a handful of people - you can't supress an idea by not hiring someone, they'll work somewhere else.

I know it feels good to paint it as an establishment-versus-righteous-youngsters scenario, but it's not the case. Science in general is set up really well, I'm one of the youngsters and I'm proud of the system we have. This is the benefit of being able to test your ideas by experiment and objectively knowing their merit - we can cut out lots of the power-politics bullshit that plagues corporate (and some other academic) life.

Re:well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135742)

There is an alternative to Concordat's Jury Theorem (sorry, I don't know the source, I heard it somewhere):

The overall intelligence of a committee is equal to the intelligence of the stupidest member, divided by the number of people on the committee.

I leave it to you to figure out the ramifications...

Jack.

Re:well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135925)

A proof of that statement would only require a cursory reading of Slashdot.

Re:well, (1)

zolltron (863074) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135865)

Its actually Condorcet's jury theorem. In order for it to hold, it needs to be the case that each new person has a better than 50% chance of getting the problem right. I highly doubt this is the case with very hard problems like P=NP, etc. If this condition doesn't hold as you add more people the probability of getting the right answer goes down, and this is folk's concern.

Remember solving the problem is not just getting the right answer. For instance, I might declare that I think P=NP, and I have a reasonable chance of being right. What constitutes a solution is also providing a proof. I feel very confident that anyone in this country who has a better than 50% chance of getting a proof of P=NP is already working on the problem, and probably already discussing this issue with others.

-z

Yes. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135673)

I think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem.

More likely... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135675)

People will graffiti the page with things like P=My Pee Pee.

In related news... (5, Insightful)

MosesJones (55544) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135682)

Wiki to be created to solve Grand Unified Theory of Everything, this will take over because physicists, chemists, mathematicians have failed to do it, so the idea is to lob it out there. First step will be to resolve the problems between gravity and quantum mechanics.

Lets put it this way, if there was a Wiki on solving complex DNA evolution problems, 50%+ of the posts would be from wackos talking about ID and Creationism.

I hate to break it to people, but Maths and Physics make computing look like a liberal arts degree.

Re:In related news... (1)

rbarreira (836272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135700)

I hate to break it to people, but Maths and Physics make computing look like a liberal arts degree.

[Insert rant about the diminishing frontiers between maths and computer science here]

Re:In related news... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135773)

[Insert rant about the diminishing frontiers between maths and computer science here]

Let's see... The entire computer department was gutted out this Spring Semester due to low enrollment. The only class I was able to pick up was statistics math. An obvious disconnect here.

Oh, yeah. If you want to learn numerical computation, that class is offered only in the math department.

Re:In related news... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135947)

This from a man who got a degree with San Jose City College and only an AA in General Education. Is that one of those degrees they give people who do not have majors? Ooh, look you have certs. Can I inform you of something? You are not a computer scientist, you are an IT drone. Enjoy your experience fixing PCs and helping the clueless out. If you really wanted to program or be a "computer scientist" you should have gone to a real four-year college and gotten a BS in, I don't know, Computer Science maybe?

Check out real colleges with real majors and programs, and you will see a lot of courses that connect math and computers. A lot may be taught only in Math departments, but these classes will often be listed as being for CS majors. Do you think that they make real CS majors take as much math as they do for fun?

Re:In related news... (0, Flamebait)

dfgchgfxrjtdhgh.jjhv (951946) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135786)

computer science is a liberal arts degree.

if you want to do computer science, do a maths degree.

Re:In related news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135904)

I agree, there will be a lot of posts in that kind of Wiki from people who don't support the scientific 'theories'. But... calling those people 'wackos' will do ... ?

Re:In related news... (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135941)

The solution is already out there. Heim Theory.

Mass Gap in the Yang-Mills equestion... (4, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135688)

That's a simple one. The missing mass is vaporware from all the features that Microsoft was promising for Windows Vista and all the promises the Duke Nukem Forever will be released. Once Windows Vista is fully featured and Duke Nukem Forever is released, the equations should work correctly. The odds of that happening is... like a spaceship being swallowed by a large dog in space. :)

Re:Mass Gap in the Yang-Mills equestion... (1)

boojumbadger (949542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135835)

are you sirius? baaad pun, sorry

Monkeys (3, Interesting)

wellwatch (588301) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135690)

If you put a million monkeys banging on a million type writers you will eventually end up with the works of Shakespeare. If you put a million intelligent people trying to solve unsolved math problems they will have a solution if one exists. ...eventually

Re:Monkeys (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135711)

Not exactly.
See, Internet already proved this is not the case (for the first one at least)

Re:Monkeys (1)

fastgood (714723) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135743)

a million monkeys banging on a million type writers


Are there even a million working typewriters remaining? And at the rate things are going, there may not be a million monkeys left soon, either.

Monkeys Are Now Code Monkeys... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135760)

Wasn't all the monkeys hired to produce system code instead?

Feces (1)

dino213b (949816) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135827)

This experiment has already been performed, although on a much smaller scale. In the experiment, the monkeys resorted to flinging feces at the machine. If you extrapolate their performance, that's a lot of feces.

Re:Monkeys (1)

monkeyson (760215) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135839)

If you had a million monkeys with a million typewriters, they might end up typing "hey hey we're the monkeys". THAT, my friend, is progress.

Re:Monkeys (1)

bj8rn (583532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135871)

This won't really work. See, 'a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters' is a metaphor for random text generation. There's never been any real monkeys in this parable. If they were real monkeys, they wouldn't by far behave randomly enough. They wouldn't type like "asjfd jk o 94 To be or not to be?" It'd be more like dldskfdslfldlddddddddddddddddddllddldldldldldldldl dldldldldldldld" Eventually, you'd end up with a million bored monkeys and a million broken typewriters -- but not a single work of Will Shakespeare.

I do wonder, though, how close to the original would a page of text have to be to count as a page of the complete works of Shakespeare? Would even one typo disqualify it, or would it simply have to be identifiable, despite missing a couple of words that can be derived from the context?

Motivation? (3, Insightful)

siwelwerd (869956) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135691)

If you have something significant towards a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis, surely you're going to publish that in a peer-reviewed journal, not throw it online in a wiki. I'm not sure what the incentive is for mathematicians to use this.

Re:Motivation? (1)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135917)

I don't think you're aware of just how long it can take to get something published in a journal. Things just don't get sent and replied to in days. It can take months to get back even the first response. Even then, referee will typically require changes/clarifications/etc before publication.

And there is the case the the referee just doesn't like the person and denies publication under some facade. Then the author would have to either make an appeal to the editor and/or find another journal to try to publish in.

All of this takes a lot of time.

There is also the problem that poeple don't really read eachothers work anymore.

There is also the problem that people don't have the time to read through all of the journals that exist because one of them might have one paper with one good idea in them.

These are pretty much the reasons why a good number of pre-print servers are out there and why this wiki is a decent idea. I just hope that the people who don't have a clue (whether they realize it or not) don't ruin it for everyone else.

Noble endavor (2, Insightful)

nandu_prahlad (706343) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135692)

I think ideas like this should definitely be encouraged. Personally, I don't think a band of semi-qualified people will be able to accomplish much. These problems require a very deep knowledge of mathematics to understand and appreciate them, let alone solve them.
However by involving everyone, including the layman in these fascinating problems will help increase appreciation for the beauty of mathematics amongst the general public and that to me is equal in worth to actually solving these problems.

I doubt it will work (4, Insightful)

sydneyfong (410107) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135693)

Keep in mind that there already is a kind of wiki-like "collaboration" within the academic circles. The only difference being that the circle is relatively small compared to a "wiki".

But then, more people working on it doesn't necessarily improve things. For one, you will expect a very bad noise to signal ratio, where there would be a bunch of smart ass ideas that have already been disproved decades ago, or ideas which are so obviously wrong that no academic would even think of writing a paper for.

Basically the whole thing is based on the assumption that "monkeys banging on typewriters will eventually produce all the works of shakespear". It works in theory, but remember that it takes either an infinite number of monkeys, or infinite time -- whereas you could find a group of talented people to do the same job more effectively.

Expect a dozen claims of "TSP solved in P time!" from this site within a month, and nothing more afterwards.

Re:I doubt it will work (1)

gol (635335) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135818)

i have to agree with you about the unsubstantiated claims business
nothing appears to bring out the cranks like mathematics does

I don't think so, no.. (2, Insightful)

Ckwop (707653) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135695)

Will gathering a community of people help solve problems such as P=NP, or do you think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem?

Proofs are not really found by committee. This Wiki might be a good way to share research and in that sense it may aid the effort but above and beyond that it's not going to contribute much.

It will take a unique insight and a particularly sharp mind to get to the bottom of these problems.

Simon

Re:I don't think so, no.. (1)

RuB1X (707519) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135928)

Mathematicians do not need a wiki to share research. That's why we have journals and conferences. Mathematicians who want to pool their research find people to work with, and those who don't, don't. But, not only will it take insight and a sharp mind, but also years and years of training. It takes several years to even learn the language and subtleties of the mathematics behind any one of the seven problems. People have been working on these seven problems for quite a long time, and there is a history of progress behind each one. One shouldn't even start trying to solve any of the problems until its history is well understood. Anyone who has been through a graduate program in mathematics will understand this. The only useful public purpose a wiki like this could serve is to collect journal references for the historical progress behind each of the problems. Other than that, this wiki won't be worth its bandwidth.

solid approach (5, Insightful)

xiao_haozi (668360) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135707)

I think this is a great approach. Its effectiveness is questionable, but that is the story with everything else. Seems as though it should at least help shed some light on different approaches to some of the problems and maybe help those that are truly the 'professionals' that have been cranking on these problems to see some insight and fresh ideas. Kinda just rolls with the oss philosophy of having as many eyes and brains as possible looking at code to find the bugs and to provide creativity...so why not math. Maybe this will also open up more opportunity for those with gifts in programming to find methods to help design new methods for computational approaches to these problems. Will it cure cancer, stop hunger, prevent aids/hiv...no. But basic research is basic research, so why not.

Re:solid approach (1)

siwelwerd (869956) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135803)

But basic research is basic research,

Basic research? A few of these problems are famous for the fact that they've gone unsolved for so long. That's like calling Wiles's proof "basic research".

Re:solid approach (5, Informative)

illuminatedwax (537131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135805)

Because social constructs already exist for current research. People don't sit in ivory towers thinking about this stuff by themselves - they go to conferences, write papers, send emails, and yes, even make wikis.

This is going to become an instructional site to teach people (hopefully correctly) what is going on in these fields, nothing more.

Open devellopment (1)

kryten_nl (863119) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135710)

The people that work in these areas usually write scientific papers on a fairly regular basis, they might even read some as well. The understanding and science is therefore usually quite open. Now, a wiki might make 'communication' faster, and more available to the general public, but it will hardly speed up the solution finding.

What's the old saying... (0, Redundant)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135715)

10,000 monkeys with 10,000 typewriters...

...eventually, Shakespeare, etc. (1)

TCQuad (537187) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135892)

10,000 monkeys with 10,000 typewriters...

The problem with your analogy is that's a situation in which eventually one copy will be made among the many, many other copies. In a wiki, you need 10,000 monkeys with 10,000 keyboards to write Shakespeare on the same piece of paper.

IQ is not cumulative (1)

borgheron (172546) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135717)

If a group of people had a higher collective intelligence than any one individual, this might be the case. Unfortunately, IQ is not cumulative.

GJC

Think of the trolling opportunities (1)

tronue16jkxjtATkern. (968599) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135720)

Ahhh the smell of a fresh wiki and all the goatse-flood opportunities to come....

Not a unique idea... (5, Insightful)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135725)

The professor I worked under for my MSci project last year was collaberating on a number of theoretical problems with people from many other univerisites, and rather than unwieldly mailing lists and such to keep in contact, they set up a bit of wiki-like software, so they could touch up errors in derviations, suggest new approaches and so forth, while still maintaining a cohesive form of the body of work. It's apparently very effective, and has made their collaberation much more efficient.

The important difference there was that this project was only open to those actually actively involved in working on this problem. A public wiki will likely be bogged down by people who don't truly understand the problem or the approaches used to solve them - instead of everyone being able to contribute a little (as is possible in Wikipedia, which effectively just requires a transcription of information) the vast majority of people won't have anything to offer at all. And of course, those that are actively involved in working on these projects and want to share their work are in all likihood already doing so - with other people in the same field.

This project will likely attract those who do not have the particlar interest, time or background to work in a focused fashion on the problem, and consequently I'd be surprised if anything really unique or surprising came out of the project.

Re:Not a unique idea... (4, Interesting)

Raindance (680694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135808)

I'd be surprised if anything really unique or surprising came out of the project.

I'd agree, with two caveats: this project might attract some math prodigy that isn't working on these problems (Ramanujan, anyone?). Also, this project will help a lot of people learn how to think about the most abstract parts of mathematics.

The possibility of either result would justify this project in my eyes.

Steps to Profit (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135731)

1. Create wiki to solve the millenium problems
2. Wait for the solutions to be posted
3. Collect the $1 million prize money for each solution
4. ???
5. Profit!!!

Oh nos! The End Of the World AGAIN! (0, Offtopic)

TheSpatulaOfLove (966301) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135733)

Oh nos! The calendar lied - the Y2K = 2012, the end of the earth! I need to go buy gallons of water, a generator, canned food and some fresh soil to bury my head in!!

Not gonna find any new genius here... (1)

illuminatedwax (537131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135734)

The only helpful thing this will do is allow the people who need to be working on to access the currently existing literature on the subject. But it probably won't be that great a benefit - most grad students (and bright undergrads) these days will have a professor latch onto them and be able to point them in the right direction.

The other way this website will be useful will be to let everyone see the latest developments in the field. Solving any of the Millenium Problems generally requires getting very very deep into certain fields of mathematics.

This web page could be quite instructional. But that thermometer is going to stay at zero. At least if someone affiliated with that web page does solve one, they would've done it by themselves anyway.

This site could be a great way to teach beginning/amateur computer scientists why they are wrong ;)
"Here's a question. How do we define the power of a computer. Because computing power tends to double every year. Even if this is true, how much does productivity with it change (measured in terms of the entropy of their processing)? If it increases roughly exponentially, then it's possible that P=NP, via observation."

They should really set up a website dedicated to solving how not to get Slashdotted.

They could contribute (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135747)

I'm a professional mathematician and I find the idea interesting.

Real researchers are familiar with cranks on newsgroups (James S Harris on sci.math for example) who year in year out claim to have proved this or that famous conjecture. Or, these people send proofs to real researchers, expecting attention when page one of their "proof" contains an error. So my hopes are not high that a community of semi-qualified people could solve the problems, but....

Suppose that this community set about collating and putting in context all of the material related to those problems that exists in the **research level** literature and **expounding** it in an extremely clear way. And suppose that real researchers were interested and joined the effort. This resource could be a HUGE contribution to the effort.

Unfortunately, the only joint efforts in mathematics on the web so far, do not deal seriously with the literature, but approach mathematics at a level of understanding of a first year graduate student. Problems that are well understood by the most brilliant minds on the planet are not going to be solved by people with an understanding as limited as that. It isn't as though some tough problems haven't been solved with elementary methods (the Kayal-Agrawal-Saxena result being a case in point), nor is it true that cranks do not occasionally come up with the goods (de Branges proof of the Bieberbach conjecture being a case in point), but the fact is, these are exceptions to the rule and the vast majority of difficult problems had immensely difficult solutions which took new developments in mathematics over periods of many years before they could be solved. Will a community of non-researchers make developments in modern mathematics? Personally I doubt it.

But, this is a new idea, hasn't been tried, so who knows where it will lead. As a research mathematician, the idea intrests me, and I would be involved if it headed in the right direction and didn't become a place for cranks to meet and fiddle with polynomials over an unspecified ring.

WikiCaps (2, Funny)

CRMDmerv. (865529) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135757)

Of course in a Wiki, that's going to be the "P=np" article.

"The title of this article is incorrect..."

-merv.

Fair & balanced (1)

mtz206 (664433) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135761)

or do you think it requires a lot more than a semi-qualified community to approach the problem?
Gee, that's not a loaded question, eh?

Why share the credit? (2, Insightful)

Hoplite3 (671379) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135762)

Good News! I've just solved P=NP. It's true if N = 1, and trivially true if P=0. Please donate my $1 million dollars to KDE and tell them to fix the PDF rendering. Maybe my computer science breakthrough will help?

Personally, I don't think the wiki will do any good. Good collaboration requires face-to-face contact. Anything else is really equivalent to the modern email/conference/preprint system in math. After all, who wants to share their million-dollar insight on a wiki only to get scooped? Double-plus-ungood: how do you decide which researcher did the critical part of the problem? It's tough to say now (and mostly irrelevant, but intellectual pissing matches have been with math since at leave Liebnitz vs. Newton), and it would be harder to decide in the mixed-up collaborative world of the wiki.

While there are critics (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135764)

While there are critics, 'wiki style' collaboration is a good thing. It often takes seeing a problem from different perspectives to understand the real nature of the problem. Sure, there will be idiots trying to help out or make their mark on the wiki, but the concept of shared thinking is more powerful than anyone knows. The promise that was HTML added to many people thinking of how to understand something is incredibly faster than the process that eventually created the atomic bomb.

So, jokes and criticism aside, the OST (open source thinking) is a good plan. Execution may have some drawbacks, but it has goodness in it.

Re:While there are critics (1)

bj8rn (583532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135921)

Your comment appears to be practically devoid of any content. Was it, by any chance, written by a group of open source thinkers?

Solutions (4, Funny)

Ray Radlein (711289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135765)

The real>/i> question is, will this Wiki be able to reach its solutions in non-Polynomial time?

How about monkeys? (2, Funny)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135780)

Let's combine the wiki with an infinite number of typing monkeys. Eventually one of them will type up a LaTeX file that the STOC or FOCS conference reviewers would accept as a solution finally disproving P=?NP.

Of course P=NP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135791)

It's one of those things quantum computers are good at.

Now all we need is another Newton to discover the necessary quantum mathematics to describe it. /and the n-body problem, you're next.

Ramanujan (5, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135792)

The (largely self-taught) Indian mathematician Ramanujan was "discovered" almost accidentally as a result of his writing a letter to G F Hardy, at Cambridge, and in one of the few environments where his talents could be recognised.

A lot of people on Slashdot are degree-obsessed; at an early age they have bought into the idea that everybody who does not have a formal academic education to at least PhD level is necessarily unable to contribute anything to research. (This is not just the chip on my shoulder talking, but as someone with a degree from Fen Poly who has recruited a fair number of graduates over the years, I know it takes far more than a degree or two to make a scientist, mathematician or even a developer. Curiosity, persistence, the ability to see connections are all important.) Although this Wiki may well fail, it might just bring to light a few more Ramanujans. The world does not consist solely of North Americans, and there are doubtless plenty of educated people in other cultures who do not have access to the networks that bring some people to the fore while others, equally well endowed, may never get an opportunity.

Re:Ramanujan (1)

PatrickThomson (712694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135889)

I will agree that not everyone with a degree deserved it, but there are a lot more of those people than there are undiscovered geniuses. And anyone arrogant enough to claim to be an undiscovered genius probably isn't.

P vs NP Question (1)

CaptainTux (658655) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135802)

Until I read the entry on the P vs NP problem, I thought I understood what the problem was. Now, I'm not so sure. What confuses me (from the article) is this: The article mentions that you must pare down the number of students receiving dorm rooms from 400 to 100 and that no pair can be composed of two students with incompatibilities. At first glance, I'm not sure HOW this is an "unsolvable" problem. Would I not just select and group 100 students at random then rearrange the pairs as I found incompatibilities? Can someone clue me in to what I'm missing here?

Re:P vs NP Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135837)

What if there are so many incompatibilities that there is only one solution? It'll take you forever to find it randomly.

Re:P vs NP Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135841)

Briefly, a problem that is NP-hard isn't unsolvable--it's just that we don't know of any algorithms to solve it *efficiently* for large problem sizes. For example, what happens if you have 100,000,000 students?

Re:P vs NP Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135846)

It's perfectly solvable; the problem is that it is horribly time-consuming to solve.

Assuming there are N students total, and M spots available

To verify a proposal would take 100*99/2 checks against the forbidden list; in general it would take M*(M-1)/2 checks, which is O(M^2), and a lookup table would take O(N^2) memory for constant-time check. Pretty quick.

To find a solution, you'd have to potentially go through (N*(N-1)*...(N-M+1))/(M*(M-1)*...*2*1) different cases, which is not feasible.

Re:P vs NP Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135895)

You're stupid. That's an example of an NP problem, not a statement of what it means for P to equal NP.

Re:P vs NP Question (1)

KnightStalker (1929) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135908)

Realistically, you could probably find a solution by brute force fairly quickly, because for the purposes of a dorm room, most people are compatible with most other people. But this is still clearly a problem of satisfiability [wikipedia.org] .

For example, it's within the bounds of the problem to assume that each student is only compatible with, say, two others. With that restriction, it seems much harder, but it's the same problem. You can do an exhaustive search to assign students to rooms, but your search will necessarily take an amount of time bounded by an exponential function of the number of students.

Re:P vs NP Question (4, Informative)

Anthony Liguori (820979) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135933)

At first glance, I'm not sure HOW this is an "unsolvable" problem. Would I not just select and group 100 students at random then rearrange the pairs as I found incompatibilities? Can someone clue me in to what I'm missing here?

What makes a problem NP is not whether it's solvable but rather how long it takes to solve. The algorithm you propose is a search algorithm. Consider what would happen if your list of incompatible students was so large that within the group of 100 students you randomly choose, there is not a single possible arrangement of pairs. This means you would have to choose another group of 100 students. It's a minor refinement but an important one.

Now consider if that list was so large that there was only a single possible group of 100 that contains an arrangement of pairs that worked. Now consider that within that group of 100, there was only one good possible arrangement. If you're very unlucky, and you choose these set of 100 and arrangement of pairs last, you have to try every possible combination before finding the right one. Okay, so what?

Lets see how many possible answers you'd have to try. Within a group of 100 students, there are 100 choose 2 possible arrangements. There are 400 choose 100 possible choices of 100 students. n choose k is really n! / (k! (n-k)!) where n! is n * (n - 1) * ... * 1. Since we're trying every possible combination, this gives us:

[400! / (100! 300!)] * [100! / (2! 98!)]

Your standard calculator is not going to be able to solve this one but if you have an arbitrary precision calculator (like bc), you get:

11097181218193970931519891416648407846484785328507 66515247971418153526438677698477539372878051288400 0

Which is an awfully large number. That number is so large, in fact, that even if you have a computer that could check one possible solution with every electron in the universe, until the Sun supernova's, you'd still not find the answer.

Now, that depends on really bad luck. You can construct problems though that given average luck, you would not find the solution in the lifetime of the universe. This is what cryptography is based on.

Compare this to a standard sorting algorithm. To sort the list [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 2, 1, 0] given a crappy algorithm like bubble sort requires n*n = 100 computations. You can solve this problem the same way using search though. You merely have to randomly arrange the list in every possible way and check to see if your random arrangement is sorted. There are n! possible arrangements of a list of n elements so there are 10! = 3628800 possible answers to search. You can see that even a crappy algorithm like bubble sort is much better than search.

The difference is even greater with larger lists. A problem that is only solvable via search is considered NP. A problem that is solvable with an algorithm in polynomial time (n*n is a polynomial) is considered P. The N in NP stands for non-polynomial.

So the problem here is whether there exists a polynomial solution for these set of problems that we've labelled NP. What makes this even more significant is that it has been proven that if we find a polynomial solution for one NP problem, we can create solutions for any NP problem. A lot is riding on the lack of existence of a polynomail solution for NP problems. If someone where to prove that there are indeed polynomial solutions to NP problems it would be earth-shattering. After the initial shock, it would also open up a whole new world of mathematics since a lot of things we didn't think were possible to do efficiently became possible.

Cranks (1)

frostilicus2 (889524) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135806)

This will only attract cranks and pretentious people. This will spew out garbage - results will be stated without formal proof etc etc, the community will fold and collapse quickly. I'll give them a month.

These problems are hard, this is why they are unsolved, and to make any progress requires hugely talented people working solidly on the problem. These people are already involved in research. I do not believe that mathematics lends itself well to a wiki format - its going to end up fragmented and without direction. You need direction in a proof, a proof is made up of many stages, but it also needs a general direction and insight. This will not work. Important results are published in journals - not by a community of amateurs.

The only good that this will have, is in raising awareness of the problems and of mathematics in general - a commendable effort, but not one that will create important new results.

Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15135812)

In a sense, the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences [att.com] , hosted by AT&T Research, does this job already.

With over 100,000 web pages, searchable, with posters' email addresses given, and both internal and external hotlinks and citations to hardcopy literature, this has been the leading collaborationware in Mathematics. The Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (or OEIS) recently faced a problem with increasing numbers of clueless postings.

The distinguished panel of editors, under Dr. Neil J. A. Sloane, first added a keyword of "probation." Submissions so tagged, unless okayed by an editor, are deleted after a reasonable time. At my urging, citing the history of Slashdot, they even more recently adopted the keyword "less" -- meaning less than interesting, but better than probation. "Less" sequences stay in the database, but are given minimum priority in searches.

Similarly, MathWorld [wolfram.com] is a form of collaborationware or pseudowiki. Although edited by Dr. Eric W. Weisstein and his staff, it encourages submission by form from anyone, and posts attribution to such submissions, and lists of contributors.

I contend that web-based systems have substantially affected the practice of Mathematics. Social mechanisms such as pioneered by Slashdot contribute to weeding out useless from interesting contributions. As with Wikipedia, one's academic credentials mean nothing here. What matters is the quality of one's submissions, as evaluated by one's online peers.

There also many fine Math blogs, but that's another topic.

-- Jonathan Vos Post [livejournal.com]

Insight Required (5, Insightful)

chrisreedy (127131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135824)

Speaking as someone with a Ph.D. in mathematics ...

These problems are all incredibly difficult. A lot of very good mathematicians have thought about them, in some cases for over a hundred years. In some cases, even understanding the problem requires an advanced mathematical education. If there was anything approaching an easy solution, it would have been found already. That said ...

Problems like these always require some insight. Typically, either a way to relate the problem to some other unexpected area, or some new kind of machinery that creates a leverage against the problem.

Personally, I wouldn't expect that from such an effort.

User Friendly... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135826)

The logical outcome [userfriendly.org] of people using the new wiki.

Let's not forget... (2, Interesting)

MudX (589181) | more than 8 years ago | (#15135929)

Einstein was a patent clerk.
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