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Polytopes, Jonas Salk, and Mathematicians

Mired in an issue of Business Week, the article's title "Math will Rock Your World" caught my attention. Though the content was optomistic about the need for mathematicians in the business world, the underlying tone was somewhat negative.

In a nutshell, the article focused on how businesses employ mathematicians to create decision models from customer data, an extension of the concept of data-mining. The importance of this extension was overblown, as represented by the embedded quote: "The next Jonas Salk will be a mathematician, not a doctor."

Another part of the article discussed the company Inform's use of mathematics to analyze both the language and context of articles (in nespapers, blogs, etc.), then distribute "customized news feeds" to interested subscribers.

Admittedly, the process was interesting: "How do you convert written words into math? ... it takes a combination of algebra and geometry. Imagine an object floating in space that has an edge for every known scrap of information. It's called a polytope and it has near-infinite dimensions.... It contains every topic written about in the press. And every article that Inform processes becomes a single line within it. Each line has a series of relationships....In each case, Inform's algorithm calculates the relevance of one article to the next by measuring the angle between the two lines."

The article does not elaborate on how the angle is calculated, or even what the size of the angle means. For example, does 90 degrees mean that the content is contradictory, etc.

Read the article yourself... share it with your students. It has curricular implications in that it advocates student access to more applied mathematics courses, especially those involving statistics.

As Howard Kaushansky, Umbria CEO, contends: "We turn the world of content into math, and we turn you into math." So, do we want our students to be the "turner-intos" or the "turned-intos"?

Source: Business Week article