Quote: Mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki of Kyoto University in Japan has released a 500-page proof of the abc conjecture, which proposes a relationship between whole numbers — a 'Diophantine' problem.
The abc conjecture, proposed independently by David Masser and Joseph Oesterle in 1985, might not be as familiar to the wider world as Fermat’s Last Theorem, but in some ways it is more significant. “The abc conjecture, if proved true, at one stroke solves many famous Diophantine problems, including Fermat's Last Theorem,” says Dorian Goldfeld, a mathematician at Columbia University in New York. “If Mochizuki’s proof is correct, it will be one of the most astounding achievements of mathematics of the twenty-first century.”
Many mathematicians have expended a great deal of effort trying to prove the conjecture. In 2007, French mathematician Lucien Szpiro, whose work in 1978 led to the abc conjecture in the first place claimed to have a proof of it, but it was soon found to be flawed.
Like Szpiro, and also like British mathematician Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1994, Mochizuki has attacked the problem using the theory of elliptic curves — the smooth curves generated by algebraic relationships of the sort y2=x3+ax+b.
There, however, the relationship of Mochizuki’s work to previous efforts stops. He has developed techniques that very few other mathematicians fully understand and that invoke new mathematical ‘objects’ — abstract entities analogous to more familiar examples such as geometric objects, sets, permutations, topologies and matrices. “At this point, he is probably the only one that knows it all,” says Goldfeld.
I'm not much for math, but I do know enough to know how big a deal this is. This could introduce new computing methods, aid physicists, and change textbooks the world over if it pans out. It might take decades for it to trickle down to our level. Let's just hope it's not a false alarm like it was in 2007.