Ancient Math Leads New Tech to New Horizons

How ancient maths could help brand-new tech

A mathematical discovery by computer programmers, who used a 350-year-old equation to find a record-breaking prime number, may also offer answers to bitcoin’s out-sized demand for electricity.

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search found and confirmed the biggest known prime number, a figure 23-million digits long discovered with the maths of 16th-century French monk Marin Mersenne, according to a statement earlier in January. That effort, along with other collaborative computing networks, are advancing the science of cryptography, which is essential to creating and tracking bitcoins.

“These ideas could be seen as intellectually connected,” said Seth Schoen, a senior technologist at San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is offering a $150,000 bounty to the first person or group to discover the first 100-million-digit prime number.

“Cryptocurrency mining could be seen as an indirect descendant of distributed computing projects.”

The process of searching for prime numbers — which are at the foundation of cryptography — shows how solving tedious equations can lead to scientific breakthroughs that have practical applications.

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