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The Math Olympics

Posted August. 12, 2014 03:47,   


Edward O. Thorp is the origin of “quants,” which refer to high-paid quantitative analysts in the financial industry. The former math professor created a fund in 1975 and reaped an average annual return of 15 percent by managing the fund with math equations. Later, math majors joined Wall Street, bringing in a change in the global financial industry which used to be dominated by liberal art majors.

Math is applied to broader areas. It was math that helped Oakland’s General Manager Billy Beane increase his team’s winning rate against rich clubs with low paid baseball players using statistics. It is a story of “Moneyball.” Police detect a criminal with blurred videos captured by surveillance cameras with differential geometry. An Ancient Egyptian papyrus document says, “Math is a key to the door of all knowledge.” The 3,500 year old definition of math is all the more meaningful today.

Despite the high importance, people from the around the world have in common in that they think math is difficult. The Korean math community is still behind the world’s math community and the popularity of math, which indicates the future development of math, is very low. Korea can use the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), the math Olympics held every four years, to be held in Seoul on Wednesday as a turning point.

The upcoming ICM, which will gather some 5,000 mathematicians from about 100 countries, will provide an opportunity to meet math geniuses and lectures will help people feel that math is closely connected to our daily lives. The door of Academia, an educational institution founded by Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, was inscribed with “Let no one who is not a geometer enter.” What Plato or modern mathematicians stress to the public is probably not math knowledge but mathematical way of thinking. Koreans would better address unjust and conflicting issues in its society if a mathematical way of thinking takes root. Hopefully, the ICM can contribute to Korea in that way.