Mathematicians are not known as a social bunch, but a new “WikiMaths” project is allowing anyone to join in their cutting-edge research. A study into the effectiveness of the world’s first virtual mathematics project will be released this week.
It all started in 2009, when Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers wrote about the possibility of an open online group allowing unprecedented numbers of people to work on the same problem, hopefully solving conundrums much more quickly. He suggested the “Hales–Jewett theorem” as a good first target.
Analagous to a complicated game of noughts and crosses played on a 4×4 cube in five dimensions, the theorem shows how many squares you would need to block to make it impossible to complete any straight lines. On a 3×3 grid, you can do this by blocking three squares; in five dimensions, things are a bit more complicated. This theorem had already been proven, but the solution was long and complicated and no one had found a much-needed basic proof.
Contributions poured in – a staggering 1,228 significant comments across 14 blog posts with 39 people providing meaningful contributions. Within six weeks the answer had been found. It was published under the collective pseudonym “DHJ Polymath”.