Q/?: Weapons of Math Destruction

[A few years ago we read and discussed Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. Here some questions we would ideally like to pose to the author, if we ever get to meet her (in collaboration with Giuseppe De Nicolao)]

Question 1. “Models are opinions embedded in mathematics” (quote from the book). My question will focus on the educational aspect of maths, as one of the key subjects we are taught in school, from the early years until the end of high school. I wonder whether a reshaping of the very way in which the subject is presented by teachers is not more urgent than ever. Sadly, too many students graduate without a great appreciation of the beauty of maths, and, perhaps above all, a sufficient understanding of its nature and purposes. I feel that mathematics is easily reduced to mere memorising of notions and equations, or is at least perceived as such for the most part. That may especially be the case where standardised testing, for example in the form of multiple choice questions, has become the main criteria for evaluating the students’ knowledge. In what ways do you think we could change the current school system, in order to make the situation better?… Read the rest

The (modified) NIM game

«The game here discussed has interested the writer on account of its seeming complexity, and its extremely simple and complete mathematical theory. The writer has not been able to discover much concerning its history, although certain forms of it seem to be played at a number of American colleges, and at some of the American fairs. It has been called Fali-Tan, but as it is not the Chinese game of that name, the name in the title is proposed.»

So wrote the mathematician Charles L. Bouton in Nim, A Game with a Complete Mathematical Theory (Annals of Mathematics, Vol. 3, No. 1/4 (1901 – 1902), pp. 35-39). Which does not help in understanding what NIM stands for at all. maybe New Interactive Media? Or Network Interface Module? Probably we will never know…

NIM is a time-killer strategy game that many of us played on our school desktops. How it works is best explained in this unsetting sequence from Last year in Marienbad by Alain Resnais:

The winning strategy to play the NIM game has been brilliantly explained by Mathologer in this video:

Notice that in the original NIM game only odd number of elements are present in each file, and that one can remove any set of remaining elements in that file.… Read the rest