The Best and Worst of 2018

Image via Flickr CC courtesy of @Morgan.

We’ve made it through another year! So as is the custom, here’s a quick roundup of the best and worst things that happened in 2018. In math.

Best of 2018

There were two really exciting developments in quantum computing this year. One came from Urmila Mahadev, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, who developed a protocol that uses classical cryptography to verify quantum computations. Mahadev’s result, which Thomas Vidick describes in context on the blog Quantum Frontiers, gives a method to check whether the results of a quantum computation are correct using only the power of classical computation.

A second important result in quantum computing came from Ewin Tang, an 18-year old recent graduate of the University of Texas, Austin. From prior results in quantum computing it was thought that a certain Netflix-type recommendation algorithms was a strong candidate for exponential speedup with quantum algorithms as opposed to classical algorithms. But in this paper, Tang showed that this is not actually the case, by giving a “quantum-inspired” classical algorithm.

In academia, the use of Student Evaluations of Teaching for promotion and tenure were dealt a blow at Canada’s Ryerson University, following in the footsteps of University of Southern California and others. Hopefully this is a harbinger of things to come, given what we know about SETs and the damage they can do to minority groups in the profession.

In gender equality news, Harvard hired its second ever female tenured professor.
The last senior female professor hire was Sophie Morel in 2009. She left the department after three years. Hopefully this will be a solid first step toward gender parity or at least non-zero representation.

Worst of 2018

A major bummer of 2018 was the dissolution of the partnership between the AMS and the MAA to follow the 2021 Joint Meetings. Motivated by a desire to steer resources in a direction most beneficial to its members, the MAA will focus on the annual MathFest as its national meeting. This is sad news since the JMM is such a cherished institution, and also troubling since it seems to magnify the split between the teaching of math and the doing of math. You can read a more in depth statement on this decision in MAA Focus.

Sadly December 26th of this year marked the passing of Peter Swinnerton-Dyer. Dyer made important contributions to number theory, most famously the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture. Other mathematicians we lost this year are remembered in the AMS In Memory Of announcements.

And as I’ve done for the last several years I have an update on the status of the ABC Conjecture, and I’m afraid it doesn’t look so good. Very broadly, a dealbreaking hole has finally been found in Mochizuki’s work, which has been under discussion for the past 6 years. The full saga is nicely told by Erica Klarreich for Quanta. With this the ABC Conjecture can once again be regarded as open (that is, if you ever stopped regarding it as such).

To everyone traveling to the 2019 JMM next month, have a safe and pleasant journey. I’ll be there tweeting and blogging the whole thing @extremefriday. Hope to see you in the new year!

[01/06/19 Editors Note: In the original post the author referred to Ewin Tang as Edwin Tang. The post has been corrected and updated]

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One Response to The Best and Worst of 2018

  1. Mike says:

    Regarding one of your worst news items, the dissolution of the AMS-MAA partnership for the JMM, the AMS has a page where people can comment and offer suggestions, which we hope people will use to share their ideas.

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