Archive for March 2nd, 2012

I could do with $100,000…but

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Scott Aaronson has offered $100,000 to anyone that can show that viable quantum computers are fundamentally impossible.

The question is not a practical one, there seems many technical difficulties that have prevented the primitive quantum processors being scaled up to working quantum computers. The question is deeper than this and asks is our understanding of quantum mechanics right?

What is true is that the scaling up of quantum computers cannot be forbidden by some obvious or trivial reason within quantum mechanics. So the bet is to come up with some convincing reason why practical scaled up quantum computers cannot be realised.

Links

Scott Aaronson’s blog

IEEE Spectrum

Scott Aaronson’s homepage

Poor numeracy is a national problem

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Poor numeracy is blighting Britain’s economic performance and ruining lives, says a new charity launched to champion better maths skills.

Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News

National Numeracy, which a a UK based charity, reports that poor many people are struggling with their daily lives such as understanding payslips, train timetables and shopping bills. Low standards in numeracy is a problem not only at a personal level, but also for the national economy.

A badge on honour

As a nation us Brits are not ashamed to state that we “cannot do maths”. I find this very strange. It is true that mathematics is a hard subject that encompasses lots of abstract ideas, but here we are really talking about basic numeracy. People are quite happy to tell you that they did very badly in maths at school, but seem less so with other subjects.

For example, not being able to read and write is considered shameful. People will go to quite some lengths to hide the fact they cannot read. The same cannot be said of basic numeracy skills.

In my opinion this has to change. It must nationally be seen as important to have basic numeracy skills.

We need to find imaginative ways to switch them [school children] on to maths and teach them to be proud to be numerate.

Rachel Riley, presenter of TV’s Countdown

Rachel is absolutely right here. School children should be excited by mathematics and its power, not ashamed and being seen as a nerd.

The Research

The Skills for Life survey (2011) measured the numeracy levels of 16 to 65 year-olds in England. Without going into any detail, there appears a strong link with general “quality of life” and poor numeracy skills. For example earnings and overall education are lower if you have poor numeracy skills.

Rather than just quote the study, have a look at the analysis by National Numeracy here.

We have a bit of a chicken and the egg situation going on here. Is it the social problems coursing the low educational aspirations or vice versa?

My final analysis

It does seem true that low numeracy skills are not only a personal issue but a much greater social and economic one. It is important that as a nation we address this and see low numeracy skills in individuals as the system failing them.

Links

BBC News report

National Numeracy homepage