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Math Technology

Mathematics Skills More in Demand Than Ever 590

knownsense writes "Business week has a nice article (feel good, low on detail, vague numbers) on the rise of maths and mathematicians in a world that is increasingly obsessed with statistics, advertising, search engines, and algorithms. The article also deals with issues of privacy. How has mathematics, statistics and other number driven aspects of life impacted you in the last decade?"
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Mathematics Skills More in Demand Than Ever

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  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:33AM (#14462682) Homepage
    We all know that advancements in technology can cost people their jobs. However, in the case of the building industry in Texas, the effect of introducing new technology can often be somewhat delayed.

    Back in 1997, my new house was in the slow process of changing from plans on paper into bricks on concrete. One of the tasks that has to be done early on is to lay out the shape of the house accurately onto the land. My builder uses a sub-contractor to do that - and I had occasion to watch him work. He arrived in a beat up old pickup truck with four 'migrant workers' sitting in the back. In order to lay out the initial 'bounding rectangle' of the building, they follow this algorithm:

    * Measure a baseline for the long edge of the rectangle. Mark it with two stakes hammered into the ground and tie a length of nylon string between them.

    * Tie a second piece of string to one of the stakes and measure out the width of the rectangle along it. Eyeball the angle between the new edge and the baseline so it's roughly 90 degrees and you have an 'L' shape. One guy holds the string there.

    * Do the same at the other end of the baseline. Now you have a 'U' shape and two guys are holding the open ends of the strings.

    * Take a third piece of string - equal in length to the length of the rectangle. Give one end to each of the two guys who are already holding string. 'jiggle' them until all three strings are tight. You now have a parallelogram made of string, staked out at two corners.

    * Now take two long tape measures and with one guy standing at each corner of our parallelogram, position the tape measures along the two diagonals of the parallelogram. With two guys holding the tapes on the baseline stakes and the other two holding onto the strings and shouting out the lengths of the diagonals, they jiggle the two free points until all of the strings are tight and the two diagonals tape measures are reading the same lengths. This requires a lot of shouting, cursing and everyone telling everyone else which way to move.

    * Now they have a rectangle - so they bash in two more stakes and then level the whole thing with a really impressive-looking laser contraption.

    Well, I watched this with some amusement - and asked why they didn't just calculate the length of the diagonal. The boss guy said that you couldn't do that - "It's impossible". I told him about Pythagoras' theorem. With the aid of a calculator (he didn't know what that funny 'square-root' key was for), I was able to show him how easy it is to calculate the length of the diagonal and do away with all the ugly 'jiggling'.

    "Wow!" he said. Then he thought for a moment - "Now I'll only need three guys to hold the string!"...and fired one of them on the spot! I thought he was kidding - but the next day when they were measuring out the place for the garage, there was one less guy holding the string.

    So, a 2,500 year old technological advance cost some poor guy his job. ...sigh...
    • That makes one less migrant tech worker visa that's needed.
    • by Peden ( 753161 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:50AM (#14462783) Homepage
      While it was true it cost someone his job, it also effectively lowered the price of the subcontractors operations, which in turn, will make it cheaper for you. When will people understand that in the long run better technology is a win-win, no matter how you look at it. Yes widespread RFID will cost alot of people their jobs at supermarkets when people can just go through the exit and the price is deducted automatically from the account. These people, althought sad and with no job at first, will find other jobs and society will be better off in general.
      • by Dielectric ( 266217 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:03AM (#14462878)
        I used to think like that, too. Not so much anymore. Try "Player Piano" by Kurt Vonnegut.

        There's always going to be a bottom rung of people who really can't do much more than run a cash register. What happens to them?
        • by pogson ( 856666 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:19AM (#14463004) Homepage Journal
          The trailing edge of the bell curve can be accommodated by the small operations that are so small, staff cannot be cut further, the night shift, the undesirable post, and the dole/welfare/prison/social assistance.
          • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:51AM (#14463243) Journal
            Did I just read correctly that one of your options for people who can't find unskilled labor work is prison?
        • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:38AM (#14463147) Homepage

          There's always going to be a bottom rung of people who really can't do much more than run a cash register. What happens to them?

          The society works hard to shrink them to a smaller and smaller percentage of the populace through education. Fify years ago I'll bet you the percentage of unskilled labor was much higher in the US than it is now.
          • by raddan ( 519638 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:29AM (#14463584)
            But what happens when your educational system is barely able to keep up with the current demand for educated workers?
          • Fify years ago I'll bet you the percentage of unskilled labor was much higher in the US than it is now.

            I have a hard time believing that ... especially in a country where the largest private employer is Wal-Mart, a country with a 60 Billion+ per month trade deficit and an economy where 75% of GDP is consumer spending. The US is nothing more than a spoiled heiress spending her inheritance.
          • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @02:12PM (#14465264) Homepage Journal
            Fify years ago I'll bet you the percentage of unskilled labor was much higher in the US than it is now.

            I wouldn't bet that. I'd bet that the so-called "unskilled laborer" of 50 years ago was better educated than the typical burger-flipper, low-level corporate or government bureaucrat, first-teir tech support or Congressman is today.

            Have you ever heard of "College education today is like high school education of 50 years ago?" Well, people have been saying that for at least 50 years and there's a lot of truth to it.

          • Actually, fifty years ago I was born (1956). :-)

            World War II saw the greatest expansion of education since....welllll World War I. It was still a boom economy in the fifties and the baby boomers were in full swing. Education was in full swing also. Many people who, as children, never had educations were getting their kids educations. Actually, not since World War II have we had so many people trying to better themselves and get an education (in the US that is). The dropout rate and educational rate of
        • Can you propose an answer to your cashier question? What do you think happened to lamplighters that were replaced by electric lamps? How about blacksmiths that were replaced by the automobiles?
        • I happen to be one of those people. The trick is that you need to swallow your pride and understand that you are not so bright and work that much harder to keep up with the bright bulbs the best that you can. Reguardless of what overly-hopeful people say not every one can be Michael Jordan or the president or an astronaut etc. Some of us suck and wishing and/or practice won't change that. You do your best, add whatever value that you can and try to be happy with it. Live this and life will be fruitful and m
      • > When will people understand that in the long run better technology is a win-win, no matter how
        > you look at it.

        A `win win` in which context? Are people happier, safer, richer etc when there is more technology around them? I though technology was neutral? People in the 1950's were told that washing machines, vaccuum cleaners etc would allow housewifes/etc to get the jobs done so quickly they'd have more time for leisure, but repeated surveys of housewife's/etc show no increase in happiness.

        You don'
        • by cryfreedomlove ( 929828 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:48AM (#14463224)
          I don't share your sense of gloom. People today are living longer and better than 50 years ago. People below the poverty line in the USA today drive their own car, they have color TV's, and they are vaccinated. None of them are going to be crippled by polio or die from the measles.

          Still, if you really think things are getting worse, let's make you King with absolute authority. What would you do to change things?
          • > People today are living longer and better than 50 years ago

            People are living longer largely due to decreased infant mortality.

            > Still, if you really think things are getting worse, let's make you King with absolute
            > authority. What would you do to change things?

            More equality of access to healthcare. Discourage the trend towards obesity by ensuring people can afford and have access to fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Encourage people to excersize. Encourage better/cheaper public transport so
          • by OldManAndTheC++ ( 723450 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:35AM (#14463659)
            let's make you King with absolute authority. What would you do to change things?

            Oh boy! Let's see:

            • Raise the alcohol content of beer.
            • Reinstate the practice of dwarf-tossing
            • Get rid of the IRS. Replace it with knights in armor who go door to door and take all your stuff, and give it the King (me).
            • Bring back droit du seigneur []

            It's good to be the King!

          • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @12:38PM (#14464308) Homepage
            I think you over-estimate the quality of life at the poverty line and all the problems that go along with it. The sense that you give is that people who live under the line have all the amenities everyone else has, but only to a lower quality.

            Let me help you out here. I lived with a family of 6 whose yearly average of taxable income of $14,000 (c.2000). We received welfare ($600/month), food stamps ($250/month), and received subsidized rent via HUD ($-400/month). As you can tell, we were below the poverty line.

            Now consider the average education level of those under the line. I think my family was a good example having a Vietnam-vet with a GED as a father and a middle-school-educated mother. They were not capable of finding significant income in an area that would allow "people like us" to live.

            They eventually got a car-- an '80s junker on a 16% interest loan. We had 2 color televisions with cable. "Why?," you ask? because there is literally NO OTHER WAY OF ESCAPE in a society that focuses around entertainment! A one-time cost of $200 and a monthly cost of $25 is damn reasonable when you consider that most Slashdotters rarely think more than twice about upgrading their system (or buying a new one) with a pricetag of 200+.

            Lastly, there's all the qualitative differences in a family that lives below the poverty line. There's frustration (an extreme understatement here) of being stuck and unable to provide. This anger is, more often than not, expressed physically with women and children on the receiving end. There's depression, lack of confidence, in ability to socialize outside of your born-in group as other groups cost money to associate with, no culture of education... there is no hope.

            So, before you rain judgement from upon high based on severly miscalculated eyeball-assumptions, give it a shot.

            --Ps. The polio thing made me laugh. If you're poor and living in California, you have a limited number of times you can see a physician, emergency room, dentist, or an optometrist in a year. When I was in high school ('96-'00) we had 6 stickers on our Medical tickets. 1) Glasses, 2) Fillings, 3) busted thumb in PE, 4,5,6) Tonsilitis. After that, and with a 104-fever, I was SOL.
            • We had 2 color televisions with cable. "Why?," you ask? because there is literally NO OTHER WAY OF ESCAPE in a society that focuses around entertainment!

              I call utter BS!

              They're called libraries. You walk in, get a library card and walk out with a book *AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU*. After you've finished that book, return it and get another one - *still free*! Nowadays, there are almost always free internet connections available as well.

              Don't give me that crap about "You just don't know what it's like." I u
            • by Frenchy_2001 ( 659163 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @02:59PM (#14465672)
              I lived with a family of 6 whose yearly average of taxable income of $14,000 (c.2000).[...]We had 2 color televisions with cable.[...] A one-time cost of $200 and a monthly cost of $25 is damn reasonable[...]

              So, let me get this straight. You are with a ploor family, desperate for money, below the poverty line and getting helped by the state BUT they blow 20% of their income on cable? Did they also eat out at McDo regularly and buy cigarettes? Because for entertainment value, it does not get any better either.

              However, i have new for you: Entertainment does not further anything. It does not allow you to grow, get better and get out of a bad situation. It is just a legal drug that helps you forget your trouble. Troubles dont go away by themselves, you need to face them to solve them, so staying in front of a TV wont solve anything. Neither will bitching or posting on /.

              I know people that started with nothing (kicked out of their family home at 16 after being beaten by their dad), but they are successful today. How? They made their choice, got loans and credits, got an education and worked it out. Worked to pay their tuitions and boards, worked in class to succeed and worked and innovated to pay their bills. They could do it, but of course, it was a LOT more difficult than sitting on their butts watching TV and saying how desperate they were.

              Life does not always deal you a fair situation and some needs to make more efforts to reach a given point, but USA is a land of opportunities. You can get an education and a job, but it will need LOTS of efforts if you dont get any help (family mostly).

              Hope is how you look at things, not what is passed down to you. Every problem has a solution. Some required ungodly efforts to reach it...

              (now, let's start the karma bashing...)
        • by Dinny ( 16499 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:51AM (#14463244)
          People are certainly safer and richer. Safer, look at the number of work related deaths as a percentage of population from 1950 to today. Richer, compare the average portion of income spent on luxuries like eating out.

          As far as happier, people have signifigantly more control over how they spend their time and what they do. People tend to settle in to a level of happiness based not on their current condition, but on what they compare it to. Find someone and compare what they would have had in the 50's to what they have now and see if what they have now makes them happy.
      • by rmcd ( 53236 ) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:18AM (#14463486)
        This is a widely-cited and often misquoted (and misunderstood) theorem in economics. "Win-win" in this situation requires that the winners compensate the losers. If you don't pay compensation for the loss (e.g., the salary they would have earned), then you have a winner and a loser, period. You have no way to say that one's gain offsets the other's pain.

        The economic theorem says that the monetary gain for the winners is great enough that it is *possible* for the winners to compensate the losers so to leave as well off as before. In this case everyone is at least as well off. But if you don't compensate the losers, you can't say a thing.
      • why am I better of that I can buy a bag of apples at a 2% discount?
        why am I better of that I can buy this bag of apples 10% quicker then 5 years ago?


        perhaps I would be better of this bag of apples was grown in Ontario and shipped to me a few hundred mile, rather then the few thousand it probably was.

        the ability to Consume more does not make the world a better place.

    • There's actually a framing calculator that has a much more useful square root function on it. It will return values that aren't decimal so it's easier to to use with a tape measure.

      If you think that was bad, you should look at how most framers put up rafters. My dad could do all those measurements in his head. On one house we did, my dad actually had me use the blue book (the one you get when you buy a speed sqaure) and the framing calculator to figure up the roof system. We still finished that house fa
      • There's actually a framing calculator that has a much more useful square root function on it. It will return values that aren't decimal so it's easier to to use with a tape measure.

        I was completely mystified about what this could possibly have meant, until I remembered that you guys don't use the metric system. :)

        I guess converting from 11.764 feet to 11 feet and the appropriate number of inches would be a bitch. I'm just surprised they put the conversion into a special "square root" button and don't just
    • If Pythagoras can get one guy fired, imagine what Goldman's Polytope is going to do!

      /changes professions
    • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:00AM (#14462857) Homepage

      So, a 2,500 year old technological advance cost some poor guy his job. ...sigh...

      That's one way to look at it. There's no denying that technology replaces some low level jobs. But on the other end the boss guy now has more money to spend on something else. He might pocket the money, or he might fire another guy and use the combined money to hire a more skilled helper. Then take on jobs that require more skill than simply staking out building sites.

      If technology simply eliminated jobs without creating new ones, we'd all have been out of work a few thousand years ago.
    • by Funakoshi ( 925826 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:01AM (#14462861)
      While I appreciate the story, I think your sub-contractor was pretty brutal, at the very least he should have had a theodolite (construction instrument) to turn his 90 degree angles for him. I sell construction equipment and there is no doubt that it is difficult to "teach an old dog new tricks", the technology available to those companies is mind boggling, but equally as amazing is the fact that they dont search it out to improve their effeciency.

      For example, the layout contractors I speak to (should) use instruments that allow them to layout their forms with not only no string, but also no paper. Plans are transfered to ruggedized PDAs, attached to instruments that calculate locations based on distance and angles from given landmarks, and stakes are pounded. They can increase productivity by 30% with very little effort at all. Some land suveyors are doing layout with GPS systems with sub-centimeter accuracy and are seeing 50-70% increases in productivity.

      I dont mean to flame the parent, he/she is correct, the users in that industry dont use enough technology, but it is available to them.

      PS: I think, no matter how much frickin money they make, they ALL drive beat up pickups
  • Hmmmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:33AM (#14462687) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if this Neal Goldman was in the AV club during high school and had a crush on a girl named Meg.
  • How has mathematics, statistics and other number driven aspects of life impacted you in the last decade?

    Wow, a better question would be, "What part of my life hasn't been impacted by math?"

    I've always liked math. And, in the past decade, there has been much evidence pointing toward math being a primary component in a better lifestyle. It didn't fully hit me until I was a freshman in college and my computer science courses started crossing paths with my linear algebra courses.

    But even in grade school,

    • by Keck ( 7446 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:48AM (#14462766) Homepage
      And so I slowly started to realize that mathematics were the underlying principle to everything. Maybe you've seen the motion picture Pi and remember the part where the main character has a revelation that everything can be described by math. In my opinion, he was dead right.

      I'm a math/sci geek too (do you have to SAY that on /.?) but I want to point out that we are well served to be aware of the limitations of math and logic. Some people put as much faith in logic and our own mathematical knowlege as any fundamentalist zealot puts in their own religion. Reasonable people (and the smartest mathematicians and scientists I've ever seen) realize that math and even logic are human's own inventions, and are limited in what they can be applied to. That said, they are a hugely useful system of describing the natural world and even abstract ideas in a very communicable way -- we've often heard and said that Math is the true international language. Yet, there are statements in math that we know we can neither prove nor disprove -- and conversely, there are things we know to be true (by experience, which Einstein referred to as the ultimate truth) but we know for sure can't be proven!

      Google for "Gödel's theorem", or maybe "metamathematics" before knee-jerk replying, please.
      • I'm well aware of the Incompleteness Theorem and most of Kurt Gödel's work.

        This wasn't a knee-jerk reaction, this is something I've thought quite a bit about. I'll stand by mathematics before I'll stand by any other -ism in the world. Yes, mathematics has holes. The great thing is that the community recognizes they're there and they are constantly striving to examine them. Not fix them or make them go away but understand them better.
        • I didn't necessarily mean you personally, just 'readers in general' .. But at any rate, my point was you should no more stand by Math and Logic as an -ism than anything else! I'm perfectly comfortable not tying myself unto death to anyone claiming to know The Real Ultimate Truth (tm). The longer I go on, the more I think that the only "universal truth" is that there is NO "universal truth".

          Also, by knee-jerk reaction I was more anticipating other's super-rational zealotry responses, not referring to you
      • there are statements in math that we know we can neither prove nor disprove

        There called Axioms, and they are needed in all formal logic. If you really don't understand this concept visit: []

        • by Vadim Grinshpun ( 31 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:26AM (#14463559) Homepage
          You're only partially right. Axioms are statements that (1) can't be proven, and (2) you assume are true, and everything is built upon them. However, there are other, non-axiomatic, statements in any formal system that cannot be proven either true or false. That's what the parent was talking about (hence the mention of the Godel's incompleteness theorem).
          BTW, if you're a CS major, you've encountered this in the form of the Halting Problem :)
          • Actually, Godel went even one step farther. He proved that there are statements that can produce a completely consistent logic, whether you chose to make them axiomatic, or to make their inverse axiomatic. Thus, these statements are not only logically true, but also logically false (in a sense).

            Non-Euclidean geometry was the first evidence of this fact. The axiom was that any point can have only a single line that passes through it parallel to another given line. Euclid took this as an axiom, and went o

    • You know it always amazes me that when anyone talks about math they start talking statistics and calculations. This is not pure mathematics. Statistics is its own breed and calculations are for the engineers, pure mathematics is about abstractions of formal logic.

      Now if we wanted to start talking about ring theory, field theory, galois theory, real analysis, topology, etc. these are examples of the pure mathematical concepts. Not number crunching. All of these other things like "statistics" and "applied m

  • by tehshen ( 794722 ) <> on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:37AM (#14462713)
    "We'll have systems that tap our knowledge by the minute," [Pierre Haren] says. "Productivity could rise by a factor of 10."

    That's nice, but which factor? 1 is a factor of 10 :)
  • Calculator (Score:2, Funny)

    by genbitter ( 928451 )
    I guess I better replace the batteries in my calculator.
  • by scenestar ( 828656 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:40AM (#14462727) Homepage Journal
    How has mathematics, statistics and other number driven aspects of life impacted you in the last decade?

    It hasn't gotten me laid yet.
    • by massivefoot ( 922746 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:58AM (#14462849)
      Perhaps you should integrate more.
    • How has it impacted me in the last decade? Well, in the last 2 weeks it impacted me when I was at the checkout at a supermarket and my bill was $115 and I handed the cashier $120...only thing is there was a $50 in there and 3 $20s and a $10.

      She spent a good minute trying to figure out how to count them...I kid you not! She even tried to get the bag guy to help. Finally I showed her how to count them out to show it was $120.

      I didn't even know how to feel. A little shocked I suppose.
  • Be pushed around (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PietjeJantje ( 917584 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:40AM (#14462730)
    They always advertise it as a field, and sure it's interesting, but as a job, to be a mathematician you're typically in a position where you are a tool for the non-mathematician's. Of course the non-math's want more math's to do the work for them and tell them what to do... but is it a good carreer?
    • Honestly I do think that it would be a good career. I know that while I've always been more oriented toward the social studies/english aspect of school, the maths/sciences are something that hold great importance to advancing our technology as a whole. This is one of the main reasons that Japan has excelled in recent years. Their educational system is very effective in teaching the subjects related to math. In the US however, it seems that we go for every new educational fad that comes out. We spend so many
    • Re:Be pushed around (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elstumpo ( 27218 )
      Yes, it is a great career. I have been a corporate mathematician doing various things like the article talks about, for the last 10 years. My job is always interesting enough to make me want to go. Not too many other people can do my job, so I have security. And, there's sufficient demand for my services that if my employer upsets me, I can go elsewhere. And it pays a lot. The whole point of my jobs is that I am expected to be provably correct, and that my suggestions will be followed without much ro
  • by Snamh Da Ean ( 916391 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:41AM (#14462736)
    How has mathematics, statistics and other number driven aspects of life impacted you in the last decade?

    It made me go made hairline recede like crazy as I studied calculus in school and at college.
  • by Vann_v2 ( 213760 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:42AM (#14462737) Homepage
    The technique in this article is actually used, too, and can be used on different levels. That is, the BW article says this company uses it to measure the distance between two articles, but you can use it to compare the distance between two words. Here's how.

    Let's say you have some corpus with N distinct words in it. For each word w you create a "context vector" vw of length 2N. In the first N positions there are counts for the number of time each word in the corpus appears immediately to the left of the word w, and for the second N positions there are counts of the same for the right context. The angle between any two vectors in this 2N-dimensional vector space produces a measure of the distance between the two words. If you use some kind of dimensionality reduction technique to get a 2-dimensional representation, you can see that although this technique is pretty crude linguistically speaking it does pretty well. Each language has a distinct "shape" in this regard, with similar words grouped together, i.e., in English there might be a cluster of points consisting of "singular nouns," or specific parts of speech, like prepositions. It can sometimes even group words by semantic domain, depending on your corpus.

    Remember kids, computational linguistics is fun!
    • Are you discussing latent semantic analysis [] by any chance? ;^)

      It performs well in certain areas (for example, completing certain MCQ's to the same level as humans), automatic essay marking (but read the Powers et al [] study for more), and other things. It's surprising how well it does despite there being a complete absence of grounding (grounding in artificial intelligence terms).

    • already been done, many years ago
      this guy presents nothing new. there are a host of such vector-space techniques, such as Latent Sematnic Analaysis, which all depend on this crucial reduction of dimensions to collapse similar vectors in such a way that they move closer to each other. article here []. Not a great article to be honest, but I can't be bothered to edit it.
  • by republican gourd ( 879711 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:42AM (#14462739)
    Article is missing the most important part....

    is it 2x more? 3x more? Maybe 5(log n)x^2 more? sin(cos(log (pi) * -1/2)) + e? More importantly, how much has the standard deviation moved from previous years to this one?
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:43AM (#14462746)
    My outlook on the everyday world (especially marketing and the media) has changed immensely since I started getting Stats lectures in my second year at Uni. H. G. Wells was right:

    Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read or write

    It's just unfortunate that so few people do have an understanding of statistics. I've lost count of the newspaper stories, even years-long media-fuelled "controversies"-, which are based entirely on misunderstood, misrepresented, or malformed statistics. "How to Lie with Statistics" should be required reading in high school.
  • by jimand ( 517224 ) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:50AM (#14462778)
    statistics, advertising, search engines, and algorithms.

    and Texas Hold'em.
  • Is this news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    ...the rise of maths and mathematicians in a world that is increasingly obsessed with statistics, advertising, search engines, and algorithms

    This is news only in the retarded world of business. I think we in the natural sciences have capished this quite a while ago.

    From TFA:

    This has happened before. In past decades, the marriage of higher math and computer modeling transformed science and engineering.

  • Excluded middle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @09:52AM (#14462794)
    It may be just me, but it seems that lots of the traditional computer science curriculum has changed. I remember there being some calculus and statistics with calc requirements. Recently I looked at some school catalogs and was surprised to see that the math requirements for a computer science degree had changed substantially to the point that calc II or III was no longer needed. If the article is true then we're in for a real shortage of programmers who understand the mathematics.

    At the same time I'm seeing mathematics positions than seemingly didn't exist before. The odd thing is that they were primarily math positions with some computer language requirements instead of the reverse. Instead of some actuarial positions, there are openings in software houses, animation studios, civil sector, etc..

    Guess geeks will have their time in the spotlight again soon. Yay for me.

    • Re:Excluded middle (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aetherspoon ( 72997 )
      That tends to happen when CS gets taught by engineering departments rather than mathematics departments. Originally, all CS departments were an extension of the mathematics departments. Later on, most shifted towards engineering. Of those that shifted to engineering, the CS fields are taught more from an engineering point of view (design/build your code and produce the product) rather than a mathematics/science point of view (learn of the theories of your code, think about how to design some abstract con
      • Re:The reason (Score:3, Insightful)

        by symbolic ( 11752 )

        Back when computers were first put into use, their primary function was highly math-intensive - in fact, that's about all they did. I'd argue that much of what computers do today have little to do with math- much of the effort is focused on "e"-izing procedures that were formerly manual, or that require restructuring to accommodate a changing bsuiness climate. To be sure, there are still specialized pockets that rely on heavy math (like weather forecasting, statistical analysis, graphics, etc), but a degree
      • Originally, all CS departments were an extension of the mathematics departments.

        Whether a CS department originally descended from the maths or engineering sections of a school (and the corresponding implications that has for emphasis in curricula) depends on the school. For example, at the University of Texas - Austin, it is plainly descended from the mathematics department, and at the Dallas branch of UT (which historically had much closer ties to industry and thus a much strong applied focus than the

      • Re:Excluded middle (Score:3, Informative)

        by Coryoth ( 254751 )
        Not to say that all engineering departments are like that - obviously there are quite a few exceptions. However, that's how it is - Engineering is applied mathematics after all. My CS degree consisted of probably just as much math as computers, if not more. Calc 1/2/3 and lots of mathematical electives.

        It's interesting that math teaching hasn't caught up with modern needs. Engineers need math, and there is a lot of focus on engineering mathematics. In practice that means lots of calculus and probably some l
      • Engineering is applied mathematics after all.

        No, it really isn't. Engineering is fundamentally a pragmatic approach to producing things that are "fit for purpose" (or, more generally, an approach to solving problems). Now, part of that pragmatism is the realization that applying knowledge from the sciences and from mathematics during the design process makes it much more likely that the resulting product will actually function that way it is intended to. Hence the importance of mathematics in the eductaion

    • Where? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by weierstrass ( 669421 )
      >Instead of some actuarial positions, there are openings in software houses, animation studios, civil sector, etc..

      i am a final year mathematics student whose dream isn't to work as an actuary or for a merchant bank. if anyone has advice on interesting fields where mathematicians are required rather than tolerated, i would appreciate it. or in general, advice on where to look.

      i have studied almost exclusively pure maths, mainly analysis and number theory with some algebra and computational stuff, and can
  • "How has mathematics, statistics and other number driven aspects of life impacted you in the last decade?"

    Stopped me getting laid for most of it.

    Next question...?

  • Paycheck (Score:2, Funny)

    by Bad D.N.A. ( 753582 )
    The mechanism through which I get paid
  • Many of today's technologies wouldn't be possible without modern mathematical topics like Fourier Analysis [], the Shroedinger equation [], and Symbolic Logic [] just to name a few.

    Most of us use these technologies on our ipods, cars, and computers without even thinking about them.

    Yay, Math!

  • It's true that mathematics is very much in demand, but unfortunately in the UK that hasn't translated into a greater interest in mathematics. I don't know how things are abroad, but here it's considered shameful to be illiterate, but almost embarrassing to be numerate.

    I'm currently at uni studying maths, and a huge number of the people on my course are from overseas. Is it only the UK which seems to suffer from some sort of violent social allergy to mathematical competence?
    • by BenjyD ( 316700 )
      I always find it odd that in intelligent UK middle-class society it is assumed people know some literature, geography, history, politics and classical music, all relatively complex areas, but even the simplest mathematical or technical ideas are unknown.
  • by nandu_prahlad ( 706343 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:05AM (#14462890)
    Math is truly the most awsome among all subjects. Learning it offers you the kind of freedom that is unmatched by learning any other subject. Have you noticed how a mathematician can switch easily between multiple areas of study? That's cuz one can apply math to almost every field imaginable from Language (Computational Linguistics) to Biology (Computational Biology). I don't mean to dismiss learning other subjects (it's important to be well rounded) but can any other subject gift you you with such amazing flexibility?

    There's beauty and elegance in a mathematical result which will always remain true forever. School kids even today, study about the Pythogoras theorem - a mathematical result that was established more than 2 thousand years ago. You're learning Calculus that was discovered by Newton & Liebniz several hundred years ago. Compare this with other fields like Management where the MBA syllabus keeps changing as newer management techniques and new buzzwords/MBA jargon are invented.

    Again, I don't mean to dis MBA dudes. It's just that in an fast paced information age where paradigms are constantly being challenged and new ones being invented, it is reassuring to have a body of knowledge that you can always depend on no matter what.

    Seriously! You don't have to be good at math (I'm just a lowly Master's and that too in CS :)) to appreciate the beauty and elegance of this amazing subject.
  • I can't imagine how many more kids would learn math and be good at it if it weren't for the whole "math is hard and dumb" attitude of the general public in the USA. I don't think kids go into math thinking it's all that hard, but teachers even tell them it is. When that kid goes home, his parents tell him it is. The media makes math "stupid" and even in cartoons, portrays people that are good at it as social outcasts. How is this helping us in any way? I think the best advance that Math could take is to achieve a positive image in society. If that happened, then its advancements in science could only increase faster.
    • When you have so many news stories about anti-competitve rules being put in place in public schools it gets depressing. From schools where getting the responses to questions right isn't as important as understanding who you are. Where schools that don't require you to graduate to get handed a diploma to ones where you have multiple class valedictorians. To read about stories that students put a stigma on success in school because its too much being like "the other race" or such non-sense. Where teacher
      • They tried fixing education (specifically regarding gifted students) in the 80s, they got a half assed solution in place (in numerous states) before the media got bored and people stopped caring.

        Education in this country needs a serious reform. The primary focus should be making our children the brightest and best in the world.

        Schools aren't the problem, it is society. Parents don't give a damn too often or think their kids are a gift from god and can never do wrong. There is little societal push for educa
    • Too many teachers don't teach applied mathematics, so math becomes boring and hard. Every single forumla you learn from Algebra I to Multivariable calculus and beyond can be used to solve a problem in the very room the student sits. Teachers need to show the students how to calculate the position of satellites, the amount of power flowing into the room, how far they can throw a ball, or how hard I could bury my fist into the jerk sitting next to me.

      As a programmer, I found that I was using maths beyond my
      • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:02PM (#14464526) Homepage Journal
        Too many teachers don't teach applied mathematics, so math becomes boring and hard. Every single forumla you learn from Algebra I to Multivariable calculus and beyond can be used to solve a problem in the very room the student sits.

        You know I would say that too many teachers don't teach pure mathematics, so the joy of exploration and discovery and logical thought is lost. Mathematics becomes rote mechanical rules that you unthinkingly chug through to produce some number which is supposed to be important. There is no questioning of why those rules are what they are, why the methods work, and what the structure actually is. The focus is on teaching kids the applications of math and they never get to understand how to think about math, how to think logically, how to explore the structure of our own mental creations. Mathematics is taught with absolutely no sense of wonder, or curiousity.

        Teaching kids how to apply mathematics is important, but really not that hard. Teaching kids to see math as something other than a whole list of rules and methods and mechanical applications of formulas - now that takes some real effort. That, however, is what pure mathemathatics can get you.

    • Amen, brother.

      A deficiency in mathematics skills is "innumeracy []," a counterpart to "illiteracy." The scary part is that people nurture innumeracy [] as if it were a thing to be proud of. Imagine if people took innumeracy as seriously as they did illiteracy. The literacy rate is well trumpeted as a measure of a society's success. Imagine if the numeracy rate were as widely reported and remarked upon.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:07AM (#14462909)
    Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics, I assure you that mine are greater. - Albert Einstein

    I have learned that you can do wonderful [] and amazing [] things with machines and math, but machines themselves will never reproduce the creativity, insight, and wonder of the human mind.
  • by antdude ( 79039 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:10AM (#14462932) Homepage Journal
    View FoxTrot cartoon [] and figure out its Easter Egg. I suck at math, but at least I knew it was binary and had to decode it. You can view AQFL [] for the analysis and answer. :)
  • by Lakedemon ( 761375 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:13AM (#14462954)
    I would like to know if there is a way to make money out of maths skills, as a freelancer.

    I mean, I have a phd and I'm quite good at maths, having solved the 3 problems who where thrown at me in 1 year and a half (instead of the regular 3 years) but what I would like to do is :
    solve mathematical problems/bring solutions to people/firms in exchange for hard coin.
    Kind like a mathematician freelancer/mercenary : You do the job, you get the money and that's it.

    I mean, there are web sites for freelancer artists/web developer/coder. But there isn't one for mathematicians.

    So, the only way to make money out of maths (in france) is either to teach it or to research in an university. Either way, you are a salary man.

    Man, that sucks.
    What is the use for those monsters maths skills, that I patiently honed all these years if I can't even make a little cash out of it/or make more money out of it that the average teacher (that really sucks at research/high lvl maths) ?
    • I am a freelancer mathematician (see []) . I work in seismic exploration, and also defense-related industries. I don't think it is possible to do this kind off work without having lots of personal connections, though; clients don't want to entrust some random person they've met once with a difficult and important mathematics problem. My work with my clients is much more like an academic collaboration (without the annoying emphasis on publications, though ironically I h
    • Go to Wall Street.

      They have tremendous demand for mathematicians that can develop models to quantify risk.

      This is not a trivial problem. It is quite technically challenging and requires very sophisticated mathematical skills. Oh, and you'll make more money than God.
  • Too late (Score:5, Interesting)

    by liangzai ( 837960 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:28AM (#14463082) Homepage
    When I tell a potential employer I know Galois theory, he stares at me for a few seconds, and then asks me "Do you know how to use Excel?". To which I reply that I prefer Mathemathica and rarely touch Microsoft products. Then the interview is over.

    When I tell a girl I admire her Riemannesque topology and say her virtues are greater in number than those of the girls of Lesbos combined and raised to the googoolth power, she says: "Dude, you are such a sweetie, but I have to go now".

    When I tell my neighbor he can make his wine cellar temperature independent by putting it y meters below the ground, he says "Well, aren't you a smarty, boy!", grins, and then returns home to put on the missis.
    • Re:Too late (Score:3, Insightful)

      by radtea ( 464814 )
      When I tell a potential employer I know Galois theory, he stares at me for a few seconds, and then asks me "Do you know how to use Excel?". To which I reply that I prefer Mathemathica and rarely touch Microsoft products. Then the interview is over.

      This is absolutely accurate. Most people working in technology are a) not very smart and b) have incredibly fragile egos. Not so different from most people in general, in fact. This makes life hard for anyone with actual skills.

      I know not a few "data analysts"
    • Wow, I never thought of using my math skills as a social chastity belt. I find that waving my arms and yelling "booga booga!" works pretty well, but it sometimes attracts unwanted attention. Next time I'll try functional analysis instead. Thanks for the idea!
  • Financial industry (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2006 @10:59AM (#14463315)
    I'm surprised no one's brought this up yet--but the past decade or so, math has become super attractive in the financial industry.

    Math majors from top schools are being recruited (along with other hard sciences, physics and CS) by banks, hedge funds, etc. and getting 6 figures right out of college. No kidding. The story is, about a decade or so ago, some hedge funds decided to try letting some really smart people (i.e. math majors from top schools) handle money. They did so well, they made a fortune and it turned the industry upside-down. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but it's more or less true.

    Markets had a number of pricing inconsistencies, etc. in them, and these smart mathy people figured out how to take advantage of them. Lots of algorithms and computer programming found application to managing these hedge funds. To correct for these abuses, the markets had to close the gaps and inconsistencies these hedge funds were abusing.

    Although a lot of the market problems have since been cleaned up, a lot of math is going into managing funds to maximize profit. There aren't as many people making millions off of just trading, but there's a lot of jobs in the financial industry for smart math people that still pay extremely well.

    The financial industry learned its lesson: math is incredibly useful. This has already been obvious in industries like computer programming, where sophisticated math goes into designing algorithms. In the future, I think we'll continue to see other industries finding out how huge the benefits of math can be.

  • by another_drone ( 929271 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @11:15AM (#14463449)
    I have heard this before. When I was working on a math PhD in the 90's they said the same thing. But then, it was Wall Street calling.

    Know math... Yes... But as a platform to an applied field where you will stand tall with a strong math background.

    Otherwise, get ready for low pay unless you graduated from MIT, NYU , or Cal Tech in a program designed specifically for the "latest" applied math craze. I watched graduates from a top 10 Applied Math Program grovel for 1 year post-docs. Many went into Comp Sci AFTER receiving their PhD because they did not want to enjoy the bountiful $35K they would get as a post-doc.

    By the time a place like Business Week has an article on this, the top math programs located nearby the trend (Read that Boston, NY or Silicon Valley) already have a specialized sub-degree for the trend.

    Also, be aware that PhD's tend to prefer hiring students from their adviser or their academic friends. Also a limiting factor for getting a job offer as these high end applied research jobs.

    Yep, stick with your applied field and a strong math background.
  • by cnerd2025 ( 903423 ) on Friday January 13, 2006 @01:08PM (#14464586)

    The simple fact is that only a small percentage of the population has the requisite knowledge of mathematics, and only a small percentage of them have the passion and drive to pursue math even further. I am one of those mathephiles, and I'm proud of it. The problem with the article is that non-mathletes don't necessarily understand mathletes. It raises privacy problems and such as problems in the mathematical world, but the real fact is, math really does nothing to avert privacy. Maty can be used to devise algorithms which may or may not undermine privacy. The real fact is, however, that overzealous entrepreneurs will attempt to bastardize the good applications of math for their own ill gain. I don't really see a problem with the mathematical progress we make. I personally think that if businesses use math, and consumers are too stupid to realize they are being pimped, for lack of a better term, by industry, then they deserve what they get. I will still be an alert person and protect my privacy by being careful. There is no substitute for common-sense.

    The other problem I have is that we need to lure women and "ethnic minorities" into mathematics. Sure, it would be wonderful if there were more female mathematicians. But we can't simply set up a quota system for mathematicians. This is more of a society problem than education or anything. Big entertainment has put out this message that being intelligent is "uncool," especially when one is good at math. In fact, society scorns illiterates, but people brag about inneptities in mathematics. Look at the news media. They are preaching about this avian flu, but their already fragile case for hysteria is flattened by their fouled up statistics (no pun intended). They say the mortality rate is something like 75%. With a logistic growth model, that would knock off huge amounts of the population in its second stage, which has definitely not happened yet. But if you look at the sources of their statistics, they only accounted for people who have been confirmed with avian flu, and specifically those who died or were critically ill. The actual numbers of people who have been infected is probably much higher, and in past years many people have probably been affected by it and then overcame it, thinking it was a "normal" flu. With these people taken into account, the true mortality rate is probably much less. The lack of math knowledge in the media is terrible, because these people just utter words that they think they understand. "Mortality rate" is the ratio of deaths (with respect to something) per 1000 people. If you looked up infant mortality rate, it would be quoted as "n deaths per 1000 live births". When society en masse becomes more attentive to mathematics, then we will start to see women enter the field.

    'Ethnic minorities' was the phrase that stumped me. Why do we beat around the bush and use this PC "ethnic minority" crap? I work in a physics lab with physicists, enginneers, and mathematicians. Its like the friggin' UN in there. A guy from Thailand, one from India, a Pacific Islander, a guy from China, a black guy, then two white guys (another guy and I) all work in an office. There is no clear majority! The only real fact is that we're all men. What pisses me off is that we can't say "we wish more blacks would enter the mathematics field," we have to say "we hope 'ethnic minorities' enter mathematics." Ethnic minorities are distributed all throughout mathematics in the US. Asians, Indians, and Arabs are all present in mathematical fields. Maybe when ignorance by the media is overcome, and the real truth is confronted, then we'll see mathematics interest really spike across the board.

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry