Al-Jazeera Runs Controversial Math Series

Written by Select Distinct

Sunday, 12 September 2004

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Weapons of Math Instruction

Independent media outlet Al-Jazeera is yet again the subject of intense criticism, this time not by leaders of the Iranian government or the unelected interim Iraqi government but by key figures in the IMF, World Bank, European Union and America, for deciding to broadcast a series of math lectures about new discoveries that could render credit card transactions unsafe and turn electronic espionage transparent. The series, entitled "Introduction to Prime Number Spectrometry" explains the now solved Reimann Hypothesis and takes it a step further. In it Dr. Louis de Branges explains his findings in English with Arabic subtitles. French-born mathematician Louis de Branges made the discovery while working at Purdue University in the U.S. where he shared his findings with his initially sceptical colleagues, but never published his
results. The math community has since accepted the proof as correct. The Al-Jazeera broadcast has been labeled "potentially disastrous", "a terrorist act", and "just plain irresponsible". Others consider it harmless educational programming and an exercise of freedom of speech.

Public relations representatives at Al-Jazeera argue that there is a very real danger of the information being repressed and its purveyors censored or even endangered. This they say would not be conducive to the work that needs to be done in scientific research communities. Critics compare the information to the kind of knowledge that is necessary to make nuclear weaponry. It is highly technical, accessible to only a highly educated few, dangerous in the wrong hands, and illegal to publish-- even in democratic nations like the United States or France.

The Reimman hypothesis, proposed in 1859 by Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann as an incomplete explanation of the apparently chaotic arrangement of prime numbers, was completed by de Branges this year. Prime numbers, defined as integers that cannot be broken down into smaller integers, are the computational foundation of cryptology, the science of hiding information. When de Branges solved the proof he soon realized that it could be used to create a computational technology called the "Prime Spectrometer". The algorithm, metaphorically named for chemistry's spectrometer, a device that reveals the atomic makeup of any molecule, gives its user the atomic prime structure of any given number instantaneously, no matter how large the number. The discovery makes existing cryptographic technologies useless because they rely on the difficulty of deriving prime numbers.

And for many the difficulty no longer exists. But new concerns and fears are being raised in France where some fear that the video, which shows a man who was originally from France wielding weapons of math instruction (primarily the Prime Spectrometer, a 10-line computer program written in Lisp), will incite some of the neoconservative reactionaries in the Bush White house to put through a defense for a preemptive strike on France.

Meanwhile computer scientists at several financial institutions and universities are rushing to complete a new kind of encryption based on quantum computing, an encryption technology that is based on a different kind of math. Quantum encryption is very expensive but the impending expiration of conventional cryptography could soon result in its widespread use in some of the major on line credit card systems.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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