Australia’s oldest rock painting and a prestigious mathematics prize

László Lovász (left) and Avi Wigderson were jointly awarded the Abel Prize 2021.Credits: left, Hungarian Academy of Sciences / Laszlo Mudra / AbelPrize; right, Cliff Moore / Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton / AbelPrize

The Abel Prize celebrates the union of mathematics and computer science

Two pioneers in computational theory have won the Abel Prize 2021, one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics.

Hungarian mathematician László Lovász and Israeli computer scientist Avi Wigderson are awarding the award of 7.5 million Norwegian kroner (US $ 886,000) “for their fundamental contributions to theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics and for their leadership role in design central areas of modern mathematics ”, announced the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo on March 17th.

Algorithms – which include simple procedures that children learn in school, such as: B. Long divisions – have been a central part of mathematics since at least the time of Ancient Greece. But since the advent of computers in the 20th century, the focus of research has shifted from “Can an Algorithm to Solve This Problem?” to “Can an algorithm solve this problem, at least in principle, on an actual computer and in a reasonable time?”.

Lovász (left picture), now at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and Wigderson (right picture), who works at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, both played a central role in these developments and made important contributions to theory the complexity of algorithms.

Lovász solved major problems in the mathematical theory of networks and helped develop an algorithm called LLL that breaks a large vector of integer numbers into a sum of the shortest possible vectors of that type. The algorithm is used in various areas of pure mathematics and has become of crucial importance for the study of data encryption.

One of Wigderson’s most famous achievements is clarifying the role of randomness in computation. In the 1990s, he showed that if one algorithm that uses randomness appears to be running efficiently, there must be another, non-random, algorithm that is almost as efficient. This gave theoretical confirmation that random algorithms really do find the right solutions.

Left: a faint old cave drawing of a kangaroo-like animal, right: the same picture with highlighted drawing lines

A photo of the artwork (left) and an illustration of the kangaroo above (right).Photo credit: D. Finch et al./Nature Hum. Behav.

Cave kangaroo

A 17,000 year old depiction of a kangaroo is Australia’s oldest known rock painting. The 2 meter high drawing made of red ocher was found on the ceiling of a rock shelter in the Kimberley region, which is known for indigenous rock art.

Geoscientist Damien Finch of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues calculated the radiocarbon dates of the ancient mud wasp nests that surround the painting and showed that the kangaroo was between 17,100 and 17,500 years old (D. Finch et al. Nature Hum. Behav. 5, 310-318; 2021).

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