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Tag Archive: Andrew Wiles


THE IMITATION GAME

Review by C.J. Bunce

Math?  When am I going to use that in the real world?

Not every mathematician is eccentric like Alan Turing was.  Yet the standout math wizards that make it to the screen have included the likes of math geniuses John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), and Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), making you think a pattern exists–that quirky is a pre-requisite to mathematical genius.  We discussed before here at borg.com Andrew Wiles, the modern-day problem solving genius who solved Fermat’s Theorem.  Wiles seemed teetering on the edge of sanity as he locked himself away to solve a seemingly impossible math riddle, as documented in the brilliant NOVA film, The Proof.

The common tie between Nash, Hawking, and Wiles is the pursuit of the theoretical.  Fermat’s Theorem was merely a puzzle, sitting untouched for hundreds of years with no real-world application.  The average person doesn’t want to take the time to understand the practical significance of math theory, of solving math problems, and theorizing about scientific answers to the many ways we ask the question “why?”  The story of Alan Turing is different, and his story may be a key to spread understanding of what mathematicians can do to a wider reach, as explored in the holiday weekend release The Imitation Game. 

Mark Strong Benedict Cumberbatch

If you’ve studied World War II or seen the Gregory Peck World War II film Twelve O’Clock High, you’ll recall the unrelenting pounding Allied forces were taking in the middle of the war, losing bombers day after day, flying missions with no end in sight to keep up the momentum against Germany.  It was a job that had to succeed–failure was not an option.  While politicians strategized, generals planned raids, and soldiers fought and died, Alan Turing was trying to build a machine that would break the code machine called Enigma that the Nazis were using to communicate.  Hidden in the open, in front of the world, over encrypted radio waves, were instructions between German commanders and field forces on all their movements.  It’s the practical nature of what Turing accomplished that might sell some on the potential relevance of math.  The fact that his “Turing machine” was the predecessor to the modern computer should attract anyone to this fascinating story.

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I love good documentaries, and ever since I heard a high quality documentary about the work of Drew Struzan was in production I have been waiting to learn more.  If you don’t know about Drew Struzan, check out this review of a book about him from an earlier article here at borg.com.  So far, there is no apparent release date yet established.  But the filmmakers have just released this trailer:

We reviewed Being Elmo documentary here several weeks ago, a great insight into the creator that worked and voiced the muppet Elmo for Sesame Street.  Kevin Clash’s story really came through and made this an award-winning documentary.  As non-fiction genre-related documentary films go, there is not a lot out there that is of the quality that you’d recommend it to others, especially those that aren’t fans of documentaries.  The History Channel’s History’s Mysteries documentary of a lost aircraft called the Lady Be Good was just as intriguing as any murder mystery and should serve as a guide for compelling storytelling in non-fiction filmmaking.  The public television documentary called The Proof, documenting the discovery of the solution to Fermat’s Theorem by Andrew Wiles was enormously compelling, despite its seemingly bland subject matter.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had a documentary about genre-related interests that were as well made as these films?

I can’t make myself watch Comic-Con Episode IV:  A Fan’s Hope.  I’ve seen enough excerpts that make it clear that, despite the filmmaker’s claims, these were made by outsiders looking in more than insiders themselves who live and breathe, and more importantly, understand, their passion.  Who wants to watch an outsider highlighting the fringe of the fan bases?  I also was disappointed in Rod Roddenberry’s recently released Trek Nation documentary.  First, there is nothing Trek Nation about Trek Nation.  It should be called Son of Trek because the film is entirely about Rod and his attempt to understand his late father Gene, and little about why the nation or world is so passionate about Star Trek.  It’s not a very fun show to watch, and actually ends up rather depressing.  No one wants to view someone else’s daddy issues, no matter who the daddy or the son is.  Folks who know Rod Roddenberry have good things to say about him, which makes it more unfortunate that his film makes him look a bit like an angry trust fund kid.  And choice of material wasn’t thought out well.  The documentary includes an interview with George Lucas that is painful to watch, and it comes off like it is an attempt at starting a Star Wars vs. Star Trek battle with Lucas himself.  So there are good and bad documentaries, and finding and creating gems takes some work.

So looking at the trailer for Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, you can tell the filmmakers realized the importance of their subject, and they went to appropriate sources for their interviews.  I have always wanted to hear what Harrison Ford thought of all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones and Blade Runner marketing that included his image.  I love that we will get to hear Michael J. Fox talk about Struzan’s impact on his movies.  Who wouldn’t want to get a look at the creative process behind such a legendary modern artist?  And just look at the filmmakers who are interviewed for this film, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Guillermo Del Toro.

The only missing piece is a release date, but as soon as it is released I will update this with that information.  It’s definitely a film we should all look forward to, and hopefully it will live up to this well-made preview.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

When the year 2000 finally arrived, I was disappointed.  Science fiction got it all wrong.  Where were the hover cars?  Why didn’t we vacation in outer space?  We were all worried about a silly millenium bug that was to take us back to 1900 when the clock struck 12.  But I remember how uneventful it all seemed, despite some great fireworks shows.  When the actual millenium shifted a year later, still no flash to a visionary future.

Just look at Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the film version by Stanley Kubrick.  Nothing looked like that in actual 2001 or even today.

The Eugenics Wars in the original 1960s Star Trek series–the wars that created Ricardo Montalban’s Khan who takes on Captain Kirk and gets banished to Seti Alpha V–were to happen sometime between 1993 and 1996 according to the original series.

The incredible world of future replicants created by Philip K. Dick took place in 1992, according to the original printing of his short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that became Ridley Scott’s dark vision of the future, Blade Runner.  We don’t have a robotic Sean Young around here today.

What went wrong?

To be fair, science fiction, more often than not, has laid the ground work for feats of reality unheard of and not dreamed of before science fiction writing put pen to paper (or finger to typewriter).  Think in terms of Star Trek designer Rick Sternbach’s personal access data devices or PADDs, such as those used by Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Used in the series in the 22nd century we now get to use these regularly in the 21st century in the form of tablet computers or android phones.

   

Or tricorders–regularly used today in different forms but visually more advanced and smaller than those used on the original Star Trek, yet nearly the same in size as those created for Next Generation by Mr. Sternbach, and with incredible functionality.  Just watch any doctor review surgery slides instantly sent from room to office and displayed so you can see immediately, and in real-time, recorded biological detail.  Check out the photo below of one of two prototype Next Generation tricorders Sternbach created and compare it to a Paramount studio-production-made, original series type tricorder.  Today, the latter tricorder looks more like an old fashioned brownie camera.  Compare them to your hand-held android device or Blackberry and score one for future meets reality, or better yet, score one for science fiction visionary creating the future.

   

A great example of reality actually beating science fiction’s predictions can be seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Royale” that aired in 1988.  The eloquent 22nd century Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS-Enterprise-D remarked that people had been trying to find the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem for 800 years, including himself.  Picard saw the riddle as a mental challenge, stating that “in our arrogance, we feel we are so advanced and yet we cannot unravel a simple knot tied by a part-time French mathematician working alone without a computer.”

“Fermat’s last theorem” was an algebraic statement proposed by Pierre de Fermat, a 17th century lawyer and amateur mathematician who was later praised by the likes of Newton and Pascal for his life’s work.  Following Fermat’s death in 1665, a mathematic formula was found scrawled in the margin of his notes: “xn + yn = zn, where n is greater than 2,” which Fermat said had no solution in whole numbers, but he also added the phrase “remarkable proof.”  The writers of Star Trek couldn’t predict that Andrew Wiles would create a proof for the theorem in 1993 (modified and generally accepted in 1995).  Although Wiles’ proof could not have been the same as Fermat’s “remarkable proof,” here he beat the science fiction writer’s prediction, something that doesn’t happen so often.  Public Television’s NOVA has a great interview with Wiles on its website.

Eclipsing the future (a figurative idea only, of course) was a result of a great deal of work by Wiles.  Two accounts of Wiles’ path are worth pursuing further.  The first is NOVA‘s documentary The Proof.  The small community of mathematicians and physicists who experiment with math riddles is taken apart and revealed to the viewer, and what we see is frought with jealousy, ego, and near-schoolyard cattiness.  But Wiles shines through, locking himself away, and seeming to be swallowed up by his passion for this riddle, he somehow emerges triumphant.  You’ll find yourself cheering him on as the documentary progresses.

The second account is Simon Singh’s eminently readable “Fermat’s Enigma:  The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem.”  Singh discusses the history of math in an interesting way and explains the complexity of Fermat’s Theorem, and Wiles’ proof, in a way anyone can understand.  You’ll find Andrew Wiles to be a champion in our time.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com