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AI Is Coming For Mathematics

By: Grace Gao

AI is reaching a climax.

Last May, AI contributed to nearly 4,000 job losses and left its mark with a 20% jump in layoff announcements in US employees (CBS News). AI has slowly begun to take jobs ranging from writers to programmers. Now, it is coming after the careers of mathematicians across the world.

For thousands of years, mathematicians have been making revolutionary breakthroughs through logic and reasoning that have benefitted humankind. Euclid’s famous book Elements, a disquisition on geometry, laid the building blocks for many new advancements in science, philosophy, and mathematics. The development of trigonometry in ancient Greece allowed for construction and flight engineering discoveries by enabling scientists to make accurate measurements and perform specific calculations.

However, in the 20th century, mathematicians have become less willing to follow this tradition of logic and reasoning. Instead, more formal systems have been put in place, formalization that eventually allowed the complex world of mathematics to be translated into computer code. After proving the four-color theorem with brute force, computers demonstrated their value in mathematics. Now, their value may surpass that of an actual human.

Christian Szegedy, a former Google computer scientist and a current startup in the Bay Area, predicted in 2019 that AI would surpass the best of human mathematicians within a decade. Last year, he changed this date to 2026.

Recently developed AI math instruments have proven themselves to be crucial to future mathematical advancements. One gadget called the proof assistant or theorem prover works to check the reasoning behind the proof. The reasoning is then codified and checked for correctness by the proof assistant.

After using the proof assistant, John Hopkins University Professor Emily Riehl said, “I’m really, really deep into understanding the proof, way deeper than I’ve ever understood before. I’m thinking so clearly that I can explain it to a really dumb computer” (NYT).

Princeton mathematician and 2018 Fields Medal winner Akshay Venkatesh said in an interview, “I want my students to realize that the field they’re in is going to change a lot. I am not opposed to thoughtful and deliberate use of technology to support our human understanding. But I strongly believe that mindfulness about the way we use it is essential” (NYT).

Despite its risks, many scientists and mathematicians still believe that artificial intelligence may be the optimal tool in the toolbox for thinkers of the next generation.

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