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The web could revolutionise the way we solve the world’s toughest mathematical problems

Early last year, a mathematician named Timothy Gowers floated an idea on his blog. Gowers writes as you would expect a mathematician to: precise sentences and plenty of caveats. But it was clear that he was proposing something significant. He had come up with a new way of doing mathematics.

Mathematicians tend to be solitary creatures. The stereotype of the lonely thinker holed up in a sparse study is, at least in this field, somewhat justified. The solution to Fermat’s last theorem, one of the most significant achievements of recent decades, was the creation of one man—Andrew Wiles—who toiled alone in an attic for seven years. Now Gowers was offering something completely different: a “massively collaborative” mathematics.

Gowers took an unsolved problem and threw it open, via his blog, to anyone who wanted to try and solve it. Of course, he was not the only mathematician to blog regularly. But

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Jim Giles

Jim Giles writes for the “New York Times,” “Nature” and “New Scientist” 

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