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The Social Machine of Mathematics

January 2014 to December 2017

For centuries, the highest level of mathematics has been seen as an isolated creative activity, to produce  a proof for review and acceptance by research peers.  Mathematics is now at a remarkable inflexion point, with new  technology radically extending the power and limits of individuals. "Crowdsourcing" pulls together diverse  experts to solve problems; symbolic computation tackles huge routine calculations; and computers, using programs designed to verify hardware,  check  proofs that are just too long and complicated for any human to comprehend. Yet these techniques are currently used in stand-alone fashion, lacking integration with each other or with human creativity or fallibility.

 "Social machines" are new paradigm, identified by Berners-Lee, for viewing a combination of people and computers as a single problem-solving entity.  This project works towards a  new vision, changing the way people do mathematics, and transforming the reach, pace, and impact of mathematics research, through creating a mathematics social machine   --- a combination of people, computers, and archives to create and apply mathematics. 

Phase 1, studying collaborating mathematicians

This phase of the project comprises a number of ethnographic studies of collaborating mathematicians, both on-line and face-to-face, working with collaborators Lorenzo Lane (Edinburgh), Donald Mackenzie (Edinburgh), Natasa Milic-Frayling (Microsoft Research) and Alison Pease (Dundee). 

Background paper

Mathematical Practice‚ Crowdsourcing‚ and Social Machines, Ursula Martin and Alison Pease, in  Jacques Carette‚ David Aspinall‚ Christoph Lange‚ Petr Sojka and Wolfgang Windsteiger, editors, Intelligent Computer Mathematics − MKM‚ Calculemus‚ DML‚ and Systems and Projects 2013‚ Held as Part of CICM 2013‚ Bath‚ UK‚ July 8−12‚ 2013. Proceedings. Vol. 7961 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Pages 98−119. 2013.

Principal Investigator

Ursula Martin
(Professor of Computer Science, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh)

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