It’s like they got Wes Anderson to film an academic PR video. In the normally uninspiring world of maths press releases, it’s quite refreshing. And the written press release is pretty snappy, too. Let’s not make this a thing, though.
Previously unseen footage has been unearthed by The Aperiodical’s crack team of investigative journalists of Kevin Bacon and Paul Erdős writing a paper together, and a still from this is shown above. This has massive consequences for the important topics of Erdős numbers, Bacon numbers and Erdős-Bacon numbers.
There’s been a lot of maths news this month, but we’ve all been too busy to keep up with it. So, in case you missed anything, here’s a summary of the biggest stories this month. We’ve got two new facts about primes, the best way of packing spheres in lots of dimensions, and the ongoing debate about the place of maths in society, as well as the place of society in maths.
A surprisingly simple pattern in the primes
Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver have noticed that the last digits of adjacent prime numbers aren’t uniformly distributed – if one prime ends in a 1, for example, the next prime number is less likely to end in a 1 than another odd digit. Top maths journos Evelyn Lamb and Erica Klarreich have both written very accessible pieces about this, in the Nature blog and Quanta magazine, respectively.
The story famously goes that two decades after Rivest, Shamir and Adleman announced the RSA algorithm for public key cryptography, GCHQ admitted that their employee Clifford Cocks had come up with essentially the same thing four years before, inspired by James Ellis’s papers on the possibility of cryptography without a secret key.
László Babai in Chicago. Photo by Gabe Gaster, used with permission.
We’ve been slow to cover this, but if this week has taught us anything, it’s that taking your time over Important Maths News is always a good idea.
A couple of weeks ago, rumours started circulating around the cooler parts of the internet that László “Laci” Babai had come up with an algorithm to decide if two graphs are isomorphic in quasipolynomial time. A trio of mathematicians including Tim Gowers were on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time discussing P vs NP while these rumours were circulating and made a big impression on Melvyn Bragg as they talked so excitedly about the prospect of something big being announced.
If Babai had done what the rumours were saying, this would be a huge advance – graph isomorphism is known to be an NP problem, so each step closer to a polynomial-time algorithm raises the P=NP excite-o-meter another notch.