Mathematical practice, crowdsourcing, and social machines

Ursula Martin, Alison Pease

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    The highest level of mathematics has traditionally been seen as a solitary endeavour, to produce a proof for review and acceptance by research peers. Mathematics is now at a remarkable inflexion point, with new technology radically extending the power and limits of individuals. Crowdsourcing pulls together diverse experts to solve problems; symbolic computation tackles huge routine calculations; and computers check proofs too long and complicated for humans to comprehend. The Study of Mathematical Practice is an emerging interdisciplinary field which draws on philosophy and social science to understand how mathematics is produced. Online mathematical activity provides a novel and rich source of data for empirical investigation of mathematical practice - for example the community question-answering system mathoverflow contains around 40,000 mathematical conversations, and polymath collaborations provide transcripts of the process of discovering proofs. Our preliminary investigations have demonstrated the importance of "soft" aspects such as analogy and creativity, alongside deduction and proof, in the production of mathematics, and have given us new ways to think about the roles of people and machines in creating new mathematical knowledge. We discuss further investigation of these resources and what it might reveal. Crowdsourced mathematical activity is an example of a "social machine", a new paradigm, identified by Berners-Lee, for viewing a combination of people and computers as a single problem-solving entity, and the subject of major international research endeavours. We outline a future research agenda for mathematics social machines, a combination of people, computers, and mathematical archives to create and apply mathematics, with the potential to change the way people do mathematics, and to transform the reach, pace, and impact of mathematics research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationIntelligent Computer Mathematics - MKM, Calculemus, DML, and Systems and Projects 2013 - Held as Part of CICM 2013, Proceedings
    EditorsJacques Carette, David Aspinall, Christoph Lange, Petr Sojka, Wolfgang Windsteiger
    Number of pages22
    ISBN (Electronic)9783642393204
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2013
    EventConference on Intelligent Computer Mathematics, CICM 2013, Co-located with the MKM 2013, Calculemus 2013, DML 2013, and Systems and Projects 2013 - Bath, United Kingdom
    Duration: 8 Jul 201312 Jul 2013

    Publication series

    NameLecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)
    Volume7961 LNAI
    ISSN (Print)0302-9743
    ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


    ConferenceConference on Intelligent Computer Mathematics, CICM 2013, Co-located with the MKM 2013, Calculemus 2013, DML 2013, and Systems and Projects 2013
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Theoretical Computer Science
    • General Computer Science


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