Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Summer school
Top issues
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Parents and kids
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed
a-b c-d e-h i-l m-n o-r s-u v-z index
Marcus du Sautoy
professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, senior media fellow at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and presenter of the BBC4 programme Mind Games

Prime numbers are the atoms of mathematics, the building blocks of numbers. Yet these indivisible numbers still represent one of the biggest mysteries to the mathematician. As of 2006 the biggest prime we can find has just over 9 million digits. However already two thousand years ago, the Ancient Greeks proved there are infinitely many of these numbers. The challenge for the mathematicians of 2024 is to find a way to show where the primes are hiding. Can the next generation discover a way to efficiently produce large prime numbers?

In recent decades there has been progress towards understanding the mystery of the primes with connections to geometry and quantum physics. We now have more idea where to look for a solution than any other generation since the Ancient Greeks. So it is not implausible that by 2024, the enigma of the primes might finally have been cracked.

This would have huge implications not just for mathematics but for the modern financial world. Internet codes that protect our credit card numbers rely on prime numbers. The reason these codes are currently uncrackable is because we don’t understand the primes… yet. But who knows what the generation of 2024 might reveal about these elusive numbers.

But there is another lesson here for future generations of policy makers. Blue-sky research in abstract mathematics like the prime numbers underpins many of the real world applications on which our modern world depends. The future of science for the next generation depends on nurturing these seeds even if there don’t appear to be obvious short term rewards. After all the discoveries about primes that underpin Internet codes were made in the depths of the seventeenth century.

Marcus du Sautoy is author of The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website

Survey home
What we found
Survey responses
RSS feed
Anjana Ahuja
Michael Baum
Peter Cochrane
Richard Feachem
Frank Furedi
Michio Kaku
Ken MacLeod
Jonathan Meades
Munira Mirza
Matthew Parris
Ingo Potrykus
Roger Scruton
Ben Shneiderman
Lionel Shriver
Raymond Tallis
Peter Whittle
Josie Appleton
David Baulcombe
Claire Fox
William Higham
Paul Lauterbur
William Graeme Laver
Ken MacLeod
Fiona McEwen
Victor Stenger