Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science

Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science

Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science

Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science


In Reinventing Discovery, Michael Nielsen argues that we are living at the dawn of the most dramatic change in science in more than 300 years. This change is being driven by powerful new cognitive tools, enabled by the internet, which are greatly accelerating scientific discovery. There are many books about how the internet is changing business or the workplace or government. But this is the first book about something much more fundamental: how the internet is transforming the nature of our collective intelligence and how we understand the world.

Reinventing Discovery tells the exciting story of an unprecedented new era of networked science. We learn, for example, how mathematicians in the Polymath Project are spontaneously coming together to collaborate online, tackling and rapidly demolishing previously unsolved problems. We learn how 250,000 amateur astronomers are working together in a project called Galaxy Zoo to understand the large-scale structure of the Universe, and how they are making astonishing discoveries, including an entirely new kind of galaxy. These efforts are just a small part of the larger story told in this book--the story of how scientists are using the internet to dramatically expand our problem-solving ability and increase our combined brainpower.

This is a book for anyone who wants to understand how the online world is revolutionizing scientific discovery today--and why the revolution is just beginning.


Tim Gowers is not your typical blogger. A mathematician at Cambridge University, Gowers is a recipient of the highest honor in mathematics, the Fields Medal, often called the Nobel Prize of mathematics. His blog radiates mathematical ideas and insight.

In January 2009, Gowers decided to use his blog to run a very unusual social experiment. He picked out an important and difficult unsolved mathematical problem, a problem he said he’d “love to solve.” But instead of attacking the problem on his own, or with a few close colleagues, he decided to attack the problem completely in the open, using his blog to post ideas and partial progress. What’s more, he issued an open invitation asking other people to help out. Anyone could follow along and, if they had an idea, explain it in the comments section of the blog. Gowers hoped that many minds would be more powerful than one, that they would stimulate each other with different expertise and perspectives, and collectively make easy work of his hard mathematical problem. He dubbed the experiment the Polymath Project.

The Polymath Project got off to a slow start. Seven hours after Gowers opened up his blog for mathematical discussion, not a single person had commented. Then a mathematician named Jozsef Solymosi from the University of British Columbia posted a comment suggesting a variation on Gowers’s problem, a variation which was easier, but which Solymosi thought might throw light on the original problem. Fifteen minutes later, an Arizona high-school teacher named Jason Dyer chimed in with a thought of his own. And just three minutes after that, UCLA mathematician Terence Tao— like Gowers, a Fields medalist—added a comment. The comments . . .

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