Alessandro Chiesa: University of California, Berkeley

Bitcoin, Its Privacy Problem and How to Fix It

Dr. Alessandro Chiesa will discuss the bitcoin privacy problem and how to fix it. He will introduce the main algorithmic ideas behind Bitcoin, the first decentralized crypto-currency to gain significant public trust and adoption.

Dr. Chiesa will further explain one of Bitcoin’s main limitations: its lack of privacy due to the fact that every payment is broadcast in plaintext. And he will conclude his discussion by explaining how to solve this problem with a beautiful cryptographic tool, zero knowledge proofs. This solution was recently deployed in the wild, as part of the cryptocurrency Zcash.
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Kannan Soundararajan, Stanford University

Primes Fall for the Gambler’s Fallacy

The gambler’s fallacy is the erroneous belief that if (for example) a coin comes up heads often, then in the next toss it is more likely to be tails. In Dr. Soundararajan’s recent work with Robert Lemke Oliver, they found that funnily enough, the primes exhibit a kind of gambler’s fallacy: for example, consecutive primes do not like to have the same last digit. Dr. Soundararajan will show some of the data on this, and explain what their research leads them to believe is happening.
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Bernd Sturmfels: University of California, Berkeley


Beyond Linear Algebra

Linear algebra is the foundation of scientific computing and its numerous applications. Yet, the world is nonlinear. In this lecture we argue that it pays off to work with models that are described by nonlinear polynomials, while still taking advantage of the power of numerical linear algebra. We offer a glimpse of applied algebraic geometry, by discussing current trends in tensor decomposition, polynomial optimization, and algebraic statistics. Continue reading “Bernd Sturmfels: University of California, Berkeley”

Manjul Bhargava, Princeton University

Ramanujan’s Gems

Ramanujan’s work has had a truly transformative effect on modern mathematics, and indeed continues to do so as we understand further lines from his letters and notebooks. Dr. Bhargava presented some of the accessible gems of Ramanujan, and described some of the ways in which they have fundamentally changed modern mathematics (and indeed influenced our own work). Continue reading “Manjul Bhargava, Princeton University”

Brian Conrad, Stanford University

P-adic Numbers

Euler discovered how to assign a finite value to certain divergent sums, such as 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + … that he determined should equal -1.  How does one make sense of this?!?  The 19th century mathematicians discovered a systematic approach to such madness. Contemporary number theorists have yet another approach, using an exotic number system that is not taught in schools. Dr. Conrad spoke to the Forum on how to calculate in this exotic world, and use it to understand a remarkable concrete fact about ordinary numbers.
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Cédric Villani, Institut Henri Poincaré

Of Planets, Stars and Eternity

After Newton’s great achievements, it seemed to scientists and philosophers of the Enlightenment that we should be able to predict everything about the future of the physical world from a knowledge of its present state. One of the areas where that should be  easiest is to predict the future of the solar system, and indeed our ability to predict the motions of the planets in the short term is extremely good. But what about the long term? Can we even say whether our planets will someday be thrown far from the sun by the cumulative forces of gravitational perturbations?

This problem has occupied mathematicians since the 19th century, and has led to great advances in our understanding of dynamical systems — but the original question remains open. Prof. Villani  spoke to the Forum about the study of the long time behavior of such systems from, from the Solar system itself to galaxies and related questions from fluid mechanics.
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Ravi Vakil, Stanford University

The Mathematics of Doodling

Doodling has many mathematical aspects: patterns, shapes,  numbers, and more.  Not surprisingly, there is often some sophisticated and fun mathematics buried inside common doodles.  I’ll begin by doodling, and see where it takes us.  It looks like play, but it reflects what mathematics is really about:  finding patterns in nature, explaining them, and extending them.  By the end, we’ll have seen some important notions in geometry, topology, physics, and elsewhere; some fundamental ideas guiding the development of mathematics over the course of the last century;  and ongoing work continuing today. Continue reading “Ravi Vakil, Stanford University”

Andrew Granville, Université de Montréal

Proving Prime Patterns

The sequence of primes begins 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19… and seems at first somewhat irregular, even random. But looking at lists of thousands of primes some patterns seem to appear, such as the persistence of twin primes (pairs of primes differing by just 2). Are there really any persistent patterns?  Is there a formula for the primes?

In this talk we will review some of what is known and what most mathematicians believe but none can prove. We will also discuss some wild speculations. Finally, I will explain how to apply some of the latest and most exciting discoveries to prove that a few of the apparent patterns are indeed persistent.
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Avi Wigderson, Institute for Advanced Study

The P vs. NP Problem

Dr. Avi Wigderson spoke about “The P vs. NP Problem” at the first Math Lovers Forum event in October 2013. Slides from the lecture on efficient computation, Internet security, and the limits of human knowledge are available as a PDF download, and a video of another lecture on the same theme presented at ETH Zürich in 2012 can be viewed on YouTube. Continue reading “Avi Wigderson, Institute for Advanced Study”