Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Math The Almighty Buck

The Billionaire Mathematician 96

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-enough-room-in-the-margin-for-all-these-benjamins dept.
An anonymous reader writes Dr. James Simons received his doctorate at the age of 23. He was breaking codes for the NSA at 26, and was put in charge of Stony Brook University's math department at 30. He received the Veblen Prize in Geometry in 1976. Today, he's a multi-billionaire, using his fortune to set up educational foundations for math and science. "His passion, however, is basic research — the risky, freewheeling type. He recently financed new telescopes in the Chilean Andes that will look for faint ripples of light from the Big Bang, the theorized birth of the universe. The afternoon of the interview, he planned to speak to Stanford physicists eager to detect the axion, a ghostly particle thought to permeate the cosmos but long stuck in theoretical limbo. Their endeavor 'could be very exciting,' he said, his mood palpable, like that of a kid in a candy store." Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success: "I wasn't the fastest guy in the world. I wouldn't have done well in an Olympiad or a math contest. But I like to ponder. And pondering things, just sort of thinking about it and thinking about it, turns out to be a pretty good approach."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Billionaire Mathematician

Comments Filter:
  • education (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joe Johnson (3720117) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:19AM (#47413177)
    This is why I tell people to stay in school. Even if you're smarter than most, you have a lot to learn.
    • by m00sh (2538182) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:41AM (#47413417)

      This is why I tell people to stay in school. Even if you're smarter than most, you have a lot to learn.

      Nah, man. Bill Gates dropped out and he's richer than this guy.

      Drop out. You'll make more money.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Please don't. I work at a university and the last thing we need is more untalented/uninterested twits doing it for the money.

      Thank you.

      • Mod parent up. We need fewer students in university, not more. You really should only go to university if you're passionate about some subject and want to learn more about it, but that's not why most students are there.

        • Perhaps, if you one day you find yourself teaching a bunch of uninterested twits as a non union, non tenured contractor, you might wanna throw that into the equation.
          Besides, if we can't saddle a bunch of dummies with debt early on, this whole national socialist experiment we got going on is gonna get rough.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            National socialist?

            You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means

            • Small "n" national, dimwit. If he meant to say what you're accusing of him of saying, he would have put "Nazi" instead, which very obviously doesn't fit in the context.

          • We need fewer students in university, not more.

            Perhaps, if you one day you find yourself teaching a bunch of uninterested twits as a non union, non tenured contractor, you might wanna throw that into the equation.

            Perhaps, unless you are the mentioned person of the parent post, who is a teacher, a non-union, and a non-tenured, you should not want fewer students. Why? Think about it. If there are not many students, why do they need to hire more adjunct/instructors for when they already have enough tenured? Even though the money from tuition does not make as much profit as research grants, it does provide steady revenue to the school. Also, the larger the student body, the more tuition they earn. If the number of stud

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:34AM (#47413211)

    FTA [nytimes.com]

    Nearby, on Madison Square Park, is the National Museum of Mathematics, or MoMath [momath.org], an educational center he helped finance. It opened in 2012 and has had a quarter million visitors.

    Amazing, 250k visitors to a math museum? Who knew?

    Simons Foundation - MoMath [simonsfoundation.org]

    • by zurmikopa (460568)

      I went there with my son who was 3 at the time as well as my wife. It was fun and they had some neat things. Some of the exhibits were clearer than others. The light-floor, for example, was great for kids to entertain themselves on, but actually figuring out what was going on could be tricky, even if you read the description. (This is because it cycled through a number of algorithms.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:34AM (#47413219)

    james says "Hi Grigori, i have a billion dollars"

    grigori says. "i am not interested in money"

    james says "I graduated top honors, went to many three letter acronyms, and started a mega-company"

    grigori says "i am not interested in fame"

    james says "i am kind of a big deal. i have been featured in books and now on slashdot"

    grigori says "i wouldnt want to be like an animal in a zoo, on display"

    james says "i have given millions to charities, all kinds of charities, to encourage STEM"..

    grigori says "You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms,"

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      james says "what about you?"

      grigori says "I declined a Fields Medal...#badass"

    • james says "i am kind of a big deal. i have been featured in books and now on slashdot"

      I don't think he says that at all. From the article: "He’s an individual of enormous talent and accomplishment, yet he’s completely unpretentious". Thats backed up when they say how he realized his weaknesses and sought out people to complement them with astonishing levels of success. Your post may just be pointing out the contrast between the two personality types but it comes off as ragging on Simons for accepting success and lionizing Perelman for holding true to his unconventional conviction

      • by Raenex (947668)

        Relax, dude.

        And invest in some personal hygiene. Just because you're a genius recluse doesn't mean you have to look like one.

    • by Opyros (1153335)
      Reminds me of the legendary meeting of Diogenes and Alexander [wikipedia.org].
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:41AM (#47413241) Homepage

    His fund has an impressive trading record. He had the big advantage of starting early, in 1982, when almost nobody was doing automated trading or using advanced statistical methods. Their best years were 1982-1999. Now everybody grinds on vast amounts of data, and it's much tougher to find an edge. Performance for the last few years has been very poor, below the S&P 500. That's before fees.

    The fees on his funds are insane. 5% of capital each year, and 45% of profits. Most hedge funds charge 2% and 20%, and even that's starting to slip due to competitive pressure.

    Simons retired in 2009. You have to know when to quit.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You have to know when to quit.

      It might be more accurate to say that you have to know when to start (not to mention being born at the right time!). If he tried to stay in the game he'd certainly be unable to compete eventually, but it's unlikely that he'd lose his personal fortune in doing so.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It might be more accurate to say that you have to know when to start (not to mention being born at the right time!).

        "Being born at the right time" only happens in hindsight. The people who really made assloads of money doing quantitative trading are the people who invented the practice. If you're clever enough to invent a whole new discipline, then there will be naysayers who dismiss you as "being born at the right time."

        If human history demonstrates anything, it is that there is always the opportunity for revolutionary technology. Everything has not been invented, and there will be some new thing that enormously disr

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If he starts to fly around the world with his corporate jet and reserves an ISS passenger slot for his final weeks, we know who to call if an alien message is received by VLA from Vega.

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      His fund has an impressive trading record. He had the big advantage of starting early, in 1982, when almost nobody was doing automated trading or using advanced statistical methods. Their best years were 1982-1999. Now everybody grinds on vast amounts of data, and it's much tougher to find an edge. Performance for the last few years has been very poor, below the S&P 500. That's before fees.

      So then was it a fluke or not?

  • by EuclideanSilence (1968630) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:50AM (#47413289)

    Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success

    So very true. So often those with natural talent give up when they first encounter difficulty, where the slow learners just keep going.

  • by Tesseractic (1890790) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:03AM (#47413473)
    And release them under an open source license. Perhaps also organise a group of people to continue developing the content. I have in mind Mary L. Boas' book Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences. Mary L. Boas died a few years ago and her book is in its third edition. I have no idea what the publishers plan to do with it, but surely those who own the rights to it would be persuadable by the appropriate application of money.
    • What?? My post gets a score of "5 Interesting" and nobody has anything more to say on the topic I raised?
  • by gordo3000 (785698) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @06:44AM (#47413797)

    but trying to play the slow kid isn't exactly working. He finished a PhD at 23! that, if nothing else, tells you just how fast he is. He may not be able to do long division in his head quicker than some, but in his areas of competence, he is an intellectual giant who ALSO happens to work harder than you.

  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @06:53AM (#47413823)

    " Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success"

    That's a very interesting thought. I'm very interested in science, engineering, etc. but seem to lack the innate math ability to do anything beyond a bachelors degree. I probably would have been a lot happier as a researcher, but by the end of doing a BS in chemistry, I was pretty burned out. What's interesting about that statement and made me think is this -- if we were able to pull in more people who aren't "good at school" but still have something useful to contribute, there could be a lot of talent picked up. Success in early education still hinges on the ability to do well on timed tests that check your ability to remember key facts. Therefore, it favors people who can get the material down quickly and have a photographic memory. And it all builds -- early diagnostic tests in elementary school start identifying people's strengths and determining where they should focus, the SATs and other entrance exams determine to some extent what further education you are able to pursue, and exams in undergrad college courses determine whether you stay in the education game or not. For people who don't do well on tests, this can really discourage any further study, even through there's much less emphasis on this kind of learning/testing cycle in graduate studies. It's an interesting thought now that a lot of "knowledge work" is even disappearing and we have to find something for everyone to do. Identifying talent without equating talent to memory ability is a challenge for the current system. I'm not saying everyone can be a Ph.D researcher, I'm just saying that I think we miss a lot of people who could be good at this stuff along the way.

    One of the things that has always struck me about math education is that so little applied math is taught. Now that I don't have the pressure to perform on exams anymore, sometimes I go back and try to figure out some of the math concepts that I never fully understood. Pairing the procedural stuff with a real world example makes it so much easier to understand, and makes it less of a procedure. Simons is a good example of taking something highly theoretical (basic math research) and applying it to something practical (being one of the first hedge funds to do HFT/heavy data analysis.) Unfortunately, it's very difficult to teach applied math to a class of 30 students, some of whom don't care, so a lot of people miss out on this. But it's kind of like chemistry...you have to have a good early education experience to make the jump from chemistry being a jumble of elements, equations, etc. to a set of rules describing how materials interact. People who don't get that exposure in their first chemistry classes aren't likely to continue.

    He's right though -- people who work hard and are persistent do get ahead. Not always, and life isn't fair sometimes, but that tends to be true everywhere. Yes, some people just get lucky, and we only hear about those examples in media. But for normals, how well you do is definitely linked with how much effort you put in.

  • Unfortunately, very few people who complete a PhD in this country go on to acheive much financially. Even as the chair of a math department his salary was dwarfed by that paid to the football coach of the same university. It is sad that research pays so poorly in this country in spite of its great benefits.
  • Don't like him (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @07:30AM (#47413961)

    He worked for the NSA...
    He made his money through High Frequency trading... which is nothing more than steeling...

    I guess he worked for the NSA prior to them going Full Tilt Gestapo on us... but the HF Trading thing I can't let go of. That's basically stealing from the peoples retirement and is flat out evil. Being a "math genius" he would have know what he was doing.

  • by coofercat (719737) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @07:34AM (#47413971) Homepage Journal

    I'm a mathematics genius too. I counted all my money, and I've managed to amass 23 billion pounds, just in my wallet (and that's after I bought lunch). That doesn't include all the money in my penny jar at home and the stuff that's down the back of the sofa. If we add all that, I'm pretty sure I'm the second richest person in the world.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Since the article points how how wealthy he is, did he use his understanding of math to somehow make all that money?

  • Why is he receiving accolades on Slashdot? He does automated, high frequency trading! Oh wait, never mind. He's a democrat/leftist. Phew!
  • Born into a family with money which encouraged his education, he went on to make more money.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

Working...