Friday, January 13, 2006

"We do math everyday"

A slightly over-the-top article in BusinessWeek (the title is bad enough) about the (new ! hot ! stop the presses!) discovery that mathematics is being used in data mining and optimization.

The world is moving into a new age of numbers. Partnerships between mathematicians and computer scientists are bulling into whole new domains of business and imposing the efficiencies of math. This has happened before. In past decades, the marriage of higher math and computer modeling transformed science and engineering. Quants turned finance upside down a generation ago. And data miners plucked useful nuggets from vast consumer and business databases. But just look at where the mathematicians are now. They're helping to map out advertising campaigns, they're changing the nature of research in newsrooms and in biology labs, and they're enabling marketers to forge new one-on-one relationships with customers. As this occurs, more of the economy falls into the realm of numbers. Says James R. Schatz, chief of the mathematics research group at the National Security Agency: "There has never been a better time to be a mathematician."
I thought people at the NSA weren't supposed to disclose that they worked for the NSA ? At AT&T we often get visits from people in black suits from a "government agency". Anyhoo, instead of being a grumpy old codger, I should be happy that the article points out the range of areas where mathematics is being used.

What's interesting is that all the applications mentioned are really applications of modelling methods, coupled with nifty algorithms. In a sense, computers (and computer science) have been the road to success for mathematical methods. It's also fun to play 'spot the theoretical computer scientist' with this article; Prabhakar Raghavan, Tom Leighton, and Cynthia Dwork are all quoted.

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