As 2018 arrived, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past year in mathematics, some tragic moments along with some glorious feats. I thought I would share what I believe to be the 3 biggest moments of mathematics in the media in 2017.
Mathematics hit the mainstream when it featured in a big blockbuster released in December 2016 (although personally I saw it in 2017). Hidden Figures is a biographical film about the black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race, including Katherine Johnson – a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. During the promotion of the movie, the films stars appeared on TV programs to talk about the extraordinary women mathematicians featured in the movie. This movie inspired book clubs, schools to bring students to the film, and even a set of LEGOs of some of the featured women. In 2017, NASA honoured Katherine Johnson by “dedicating a building in her name at the space agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia“.
Maryam Mirzakhani: May 3rd 1977 – July 14th 2017
This year saw a tragic death in mathematics. An inspiration to many female mathematics, Maryam Mirzakhani – the only woman to win a Fields Medal – died at the age of 40. See my posts about her here and here.
Weapons of Math Destruction
Weapons of Math Destruction is a high-selling book of 2017 written by Cathy O’Neil. When talking in interviews and radio shows, O’Neil expresses how people don’t “understand the mathematical models, algorithms, and scoring systems that impact us in so many ways”, such as college admissions, elections, social networks, financial systems, education, etc. In an interview with EdSurge O’Neil said:
“Algorithms, at the end of the day, are typically scoring systems. As soon as you have a good scoring system, then you can game the scoring system. If you game it enough, it’ll stop making sense. That’s essentially what happened.”
As well as this, O’Neil gave a TED Talk, which I highly recommend, inspired by the issues discussed in her book. Watch the TED talk here.
Happy New Year!