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Friday, March 04, 2005

Bad Reporting or I Just Don't Get It?

An interesting trend is for amateurs to use their own computers to discover prime numbers. I don't have a link, but some young guy found one sometime within the last year, and now some guy has found the newest, biggest prime. (I saw this story linked at LRC.)

I wonder what other sorts of applications are out there for this type of thing. With the advance of the Internet, and computing power in general, I bet we'll see more and more of this outsourcing of computation. Sorta like Ronald Coase's explanation for the optimal size of the firm--it wouldn't have made sense for NASA in the '70s to farm out computations to private individuals to run on their calculators, but it will become more and more feasible for organizations to delegate chunks of computations to people to run on their PCs.

Anyway, this quote from the article troubled me:


It took experts five days to work out that Dr Nowak's new number was indeed bigger than the previous biggest prime, discovered last May by an American. His number has 7,816,230 digits.

Does this seem right? I could believe that it would take five days for experts to determine that Nowak's claimed number is indeed prime, but I find it difficult to believe that it takes mathematicians five days to determine which of two numbers is bigger. If any knowledgeable reader out there wants to set me straight, feel free.

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