Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A brief history of the affects of Technology on Mathematics Collaboration

Mathematics and Technology
In the world we live in today, technology is constantly changing the way we do things. It has evolved the way we are able to teach and to learn.

In past centuries, collaboration with other professionals in your field was limited to carrying stone tablets, and sending hand written letters by way of messengers. I don’t even want to imagine discussing complex proofs by way of messenger pigeon.  

Beginnings of modern collaboration
The Plimpton Library tablet from around 1700 BCE, written in cuneiform, contains the most influential and profound mathematical insights that are still used today. It was written on wet clay, essentially by making impressions using wedged instruments. 
As a mathematician, this made collaboration with others a long process. You would have to mix your clay, engrave your theories , and if you did not make any typographical errors allow your clay to harden  .After your clay had hardened, you would then have to carry a big clay tablet with you across the dessert to collaborate with mathematicians in other towns.
However, this beat the alternatives. If they had simply written their theories in the sand and hoped it stayed until someone came to look at them, the famous Pythagorean Theorem, and Euclidian geometry might not have existed today.
As a result of the ineffective means of sharing knowledge, one can only wonder what great mathematical discoveries were completely lost to us. For all we know the tablet with the method for finding all of the nth primes with one simple equation is buried in the sand, or was shattered by someone falling while carrying it.

The Renaissance Era
Now skip ahead to the 1400’s. The hundred year’s war is over. The Byzantine Empire has fallen, and most importantly the invention of the printing press. Now mathematicians could share their work with a much wider audience. With all of the new innovations of this era, mathematicians still had the time lapse of sending their proofs by way of messenger. Collaboration was still more efficient, and produced more mathematical advancements than previous centuries. Number theory, calculus, and Newtonian physics all came from this era, along with many more.
The computer age
The computer age gives us a whole new meaning of collaboration, innovation, and the ability to calculate very large numbers quickly. Mathematicians all over the world began to use these amazing new machines to assist in making new discoveries.
Branching from this invention, come the intranet/internet allowing collaboration on a scale never before seen. No longer were we bound by waiting for the mail to deliver our work to other mathematicians to check our proofs. We could digitize and zap our theorems to all parts of the globe in minutes.
Social Media
As internet speeds improved, we were able to communicate in ways we never thought possible.  Community websites allow us to find and connect with others in our field of interest globally. We no longer are bound with traveling the globe to find a particular expert who is working on a similar project. Now we can just “tweet” our way into new partnerships, learning teams and even employment. 

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