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Will Artificial Intelligence Replace The Mathematician?

In the 1970s, mathematician Paul Cohen predicted that “at some unspecified future time, mathematicians would be replaced by computers.” It’s a theory that has unsettled many in the field of mathematics.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, is it just a matter of time before Cohen’s prediction comes true? Will we reach a stage in which mathematics becomes so computerized and automated that a human is no longer needed.

In this article, we discuss AI and mathematics, how their roles overlap, and whether it’s possible that artificial intelligence may replace the mathematician.

What is mathematics?

Mathematics is one of the oldest and most respected sciences and the foundation for many other sciences and industries in which it is applied. Mathematics is split into two categories: theoretical mathematics (also called pure mathematics) and applied mathematics.

Theoretical mathematicians enjoy the challenge of discovering new principles, links between principles, and proving theories, even if it doesn’t come to fruition. Applied mathematicians solve real-world problems like creating more fuel-efficient airplanes or determining the most cost effective way to design and build a structure.

Theoretical maths may be more abstract but it does sometimes come up with concepts and solutions that can be used in applied mathematics. For example, number theory was once considered an almost useless branch of mathematics, until it was applied to digital encryption systems.

Where do mathematicians work?

Mathematicians are found in almost all industries as most of what we use in the world is founded on some form of maths.

Theoretical mathematicians may work as inventors, physicists, university lecturers and professors, or research scientists. Applied mathematicians may work as statisticians, actuaries, engineers, scientists, teachers, data scientists, forensic scientists, financial analysts, and economists.

Jobs for mathematicians exist at government agencies, in the military, pharmaceutical companies, engineering firms, mechanical and aerodynamic industries, technology companies, and academic institutions, to name a few.

What is artificial intelligence?

When most people think of artificial intelligence, they may visualize a talking robotic serving their morning coffee. While robotics is one form of AI, the field is much broader and more complex than that.

AI is technology designed to apply human intelligence and “thinking” to computers and machines. Artificial intelligence software accomplishes this by creating algorithms that can do a variety of things, like perform automated tasks, recognize speech or text and respond to it, learn patterns (called machine learning), and sort and anaylze large amounts of data.

How and where is AI applied?

Artificial intelligence is found almost everywhere. Does your car feature cruise control or lane keep assist? Noticed how social media platforms like YouTube bring up similar types of videos to what you’ve watched before? That’s AI at work. A few other ways AI shows up in our lives:

  • Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa.

  • Connected homes.

  • Email spam filters.

  • Customer service chatbots.

  • Automated manufacturing processes.

  • Medical procedures performed by robots and bionic prosthetics.

  • Banking software that can detect anomalies in data and reveal fraudulent activities.

  • Self-driving cars and the auto-pilot function on airplanes.

How do mathematics and AI overlap?

Primarily, through machine learning. The objective of data science is to turn data into insights that businesses can use to make strategic decisions. Today, companies deal with “big data”, i.e. vast amounts of data that would take human employees too long to process and analyze. Computers, on the other hand, can do so in a snap with the right software.

Machine learning underpins data science, and mathematical algorithms are what machine learning software is based on. Therefore, data scientists need to understand the mathematics behind machine learning algorithms. In fact, some degrees in mathematics now also include data science in the curriculum.

Will there still be jobs for mathematicians in the future?

A significant part of mathematics involves critical thinking and reasoning, and to date, computers still cannot fully reason like a human. AI is smart but hasn’t outsmarted mathematicians just yet and still relies on mathematical algorithms. In addition, mathematicians still work in many industries, right alongside automation and AI.

Yes, computers can be taught to do calculations but mathematics isn’t just about formulas and calculations. It’s about creativity in problem solving. Creating models and factoring in variables is still how mathematicians solve problems.

The difference today is that computers, automation, and AI are all part of the mathematician’s toolkit. As this article on the World Economic Forum website reminds us, “The evolution from paper and pencil to calculators and then to spreadsheets did not replace mathematicians — it only made them more valuable”.

Technology has made certain jobs obsolete. However, many involved low-value repetitive tasks that machines could do faster and more efficiently. Mathematics is anything but low value. So, will machines replace the critical thinking mathematician? For now and in the foreseeable future, we think it’s highly unlikely.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes

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