Why I fell in love with monster prime numbers
Recommended by Adam Alter
Good TED Talks introduce you to new ideas; the best ones introduce you to new ideas that stick. Adam Spencer’s ode to huge prime numbers is … a prime example. He tackles a topic that escapes the attention and understanding of most people by infusing it with humor and telling a plain old good story.
Spencer explains how his interest in mathematics flourished, and how he became enamored with the history of the search for huge prime numbers. This lesson begins centuries before the age of computers and culminates just days before Spencer delivered his talk with the discovery of a prime number “17 and a half million digits long … Written out as a book, this number would run the length of [all seven] Harry Potter novels, and then half again.”
But Spencer doesn’t stop there. He finishes by explaining why this matters — that he and thousands of other desktop mathematicians have joined the hunt for massive primes by contributing their home computers to a networked search. In the 21st century, as technology comes between us, Spencer explains how it also unites us. These global “networked hunts” are unraveling genetic sequences and searching the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life. I first saw Spencer’s talk several years ago, but it stayed with me — and I, too, developed an interest in the largest prime number (which, as of today, is more than 22 million digits long).
|Watch “Why I fell in love with monster prime numbers”|