Sunday, February 21, 2010

How Far Can Math Take Us?

In the first portion of the cover story Math Will Rock Your World, Steven Baker discussed the different applications of math in our world today. The first section discussed the conversion of words into math in order to classify and organize them. He gave the example of Neal Goldman, a math entrepreneur who takes press articles and blog posts and groups them together with related pieces based on their content. The article also discussed mathematical models and their ability to predict a variety of different things such as how to become more productive, make a profit, etc. Through collecting data, they use their findings to establish trends. One potential problem with this system lies with the population and their ability to breech the system. Although this system appears very dependable it also brings its challenges for the United States and the world. As a nation we must work towards creating more mathematicians at home and prevent outsourcing by preparing our students for the business world. Another challenge math entrepreneurs face is individual privacy. They must discover a means of invading privacy to the least extent possible by trying to share group information without sacrificing that of the individual . It surprised me how much math manifests itself in our daily lives. "Some models predict what music we'll buy, others figure out which worker is best equipped for a particular job." I never realized the full potential of math in everything we do. I was also astounded by the extent to which math can invade our privacy and how frequently numbers have begun to replace the individual.
The second portion of the cover story Online Extra: The NSA: Security in Numbers discussed the usage of numbers in terms of security. Baker discussed the NSA's role and how they use math to help figure out terrorist plots and other issues of security. One of the challenges the NSA faces manifests itself in recruiting its mathematicians. They are faced with competition from Google, Yahoo and other organizations. How are they managing? They offer a more quiet, stable lifestyle, which is especially more appealing to women. I thought it was interesting that they were looking for younger employees who did not know the company as well. I assumed they would want older, more experienced workers. I found the selection process quite interesting in that it is a contest which acts as somewhat of an advisory for their decisions.
The third portion Online Extra: Search Advertising by the Numbers discussed bidding on keywords. Baker specifically discussed Imran Khan and his involvement in E-Loan. Kahn makes sure those who are looking for his product will surely find it. Parts of this passage made it seem like math can often get a little bit too invasive, "It (numbers) enables marketers to track customer behavior, and replaces hunches with science." It may have just been the way I read into the article, but that sounds as though it could be problematic in terms of individual privacy issues. I also found the discussion of bidding on keywords and the science behind it a bit confusing.
How Much Math Do We Need to Know? summed up the different uses of Calculus, Algebra and Geometry, Statistics and Probablility, and Math Tools in different careers. Some of the associations are not as obvious as they seem, for example, advanced geometry is used not only in floor tiling but also in designing search engines. With the growing demand for mathematics based, or even just related professions, knowing your math might prove to be helpful. I guess calculus really will pay off in the long run!
How Math Transforms Industries discussed the specific uses of mathematics in many different fields, such as consulting, police and marketing and the media. Who knew a company could "turn written articles into bits of geometry and organize them in a virtual library?" and eventually these automatic systems could make editors obsolete. I found it amazing how much of a difference math has a potential of making on our society. We always talk about technology taking over life as we know it, but what about math?


  1. The point about companies wanting workers who are young and don't know that much is interesting. I went to Google a few weeks ago to learn about a new thing they are developing and they talked a little bit about how they have to teach people so much when they start to work there because everything they use is proprietary. Strange to think about, that they are hiring you to do something you don't know how to do yet, not usually the way you think about getting a job!

  2. That is actually really interesting and hard to grasp. Being hired to do something you don't know what to do. It is fascinating how much our society has evolved over the past few years. It is even harder to imagine what the future holds for us if this is our current situation.