In many areas, decision-making is affected by the difficulty in producing reliable forecasts. The behavior of financial markets, consumers or weather phenomena, the evolution of an ecosystem or the movement of certain celestial bodies provide some examples of unpredictable events that have an impact on human activity. Some developments of mathematics can help reduce this unpredictability or, at the very least, analyze it from a strategic point of view. The theory of probability plays such a role but so do fluid mechanics in the study of turbulence, or dynamic systems in the study of so-called chaotic phenomena, which belong to a specific class of unpredictable phenomena.
Mathematical skills have become strategic for the business world and the most advanced companies hire high level scientists who tackle the underlying, fundamental, theoretical questions. However, this increasingly vital role of the boffins dedicated maths specialists often brings with it new demands and unforeseen responsibilities.
What makes a great leader? The answer to this question has changed over time, as it refers to the way we form our representations of a company – a well conceived machine, a living body, a spirited team... Trends come and go, representations evolve, formulas change. Yet, the actual core of talent, or even the stroke of genius that makes a difference, seems to escape these formulas. So are management sciences condemned to mere prattle?
How do financial mathematics specialists imagine the markets in five to ten years? What exactly will their role look like? To understand these issues, we need to take a closer look at the way this field has developed and at the issues that have shaped the discipline.
As well as androids they are our self-guided vacuum-cleaners, our GPS, an automated line on the Paris metro linking two of the city's main underground stations, Internet search engines… From mechanized figurines to the first robot arm, a brief journey through a history 3000 years in the making.
Microfluidics is the science of how we analyse and handle fluids at a micrometric level. MIT's Technology Review regularly cites this technology as being one that could change the world. Why?
Students, as well as the public, often raise questions about the scientific nature of economics. Indeed, while economics uses very sophisticated mathematical models, their predictive success leaves much to be desired. Yet, economists feel that they learn a lot from these models. It is argued that part of economic theorizing does not follow the Popperian view of science; rather, some of the knowledge that is generated is analogical. According to this view, research in economics attempts to serve rhetorical purposes. As such, analogies can be useful, alongside general rules. Moreover, the role of axiomatic decision theory is understood as serving to clarify arguments in the context of public debates.
Information is more abundant than ever. Day after day, the flood of data is growing at exponential rates. Barely ten years ago, the main issue for politics and industries, was to hold a firm grip on this daunting explosion. Today, the challenge consists in being able, in real-time, to take advantage and transform into value massive swaths of data.
To understand tsunamis or locate oil slicks, scientists are running ever more complex models in ever more powerful machines. Some are now able to compute nearly ten million billion operations per second. Welcome to the world of HPC (High Performance Calculation) where technical challenge meets major industrial stakes.
In 2011 the U.S. Senate passed a bill reforming the patent system, without appeasing controversies that for the past ten years have been agitating academic circles as well as the Silicon Valley. Patents are generally considered to fuel innovation. But do they?
The global electricity sector is facing three major challenges: the security of supply to keep up with ever-mounting demand, the fight against climate change, and the global trend toward massive urbanization. Electricity will play a key role through low-emitting energy-generation technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These technologies already exist. Success will depend on how public policies are used to encourage innovation.
Intel's breakthrough vertical chip means that computer capacity will keep increasing, at least for 10 to 20 years. What will all that new firepower mean for technology and society? And what happens after that?
All nuclear countries are faced with the thorny question of how to handle waste. France has made the decision to bury the most radioactive waste 500 meters underground in a 150 million year old layer of clay 130 meters thick, at Bure in the heart of the Lorraine countryside. According to the timeline, a law will be passed in 2016 to authorize construction. Marie-Claude Dupuis, CEO of Andra (French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency) and Chairperson of the Radioactive Waste Management Committee of the OECD discusses the project.
Looking for balance between science and technology in modern research, we can observe it is the latter in the ascendant. Research is being dictated by the availability of technological resources but in the past, the reverse was true. Projects began by a review of the available data from which a scientific hypothesis was constructed, and finally a search for the best technological tools would begin. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2008, suggests that in the rush to embrace technology, researchers may be missing the chance to learn from what worked so well in the past.
Commercial space travel, breakthroughs in the fight against cancer, a new industrial revolution based on broadly distributed clean energy -even now, despite global warming and overpopulation, the future is still looking bright to some leading futurists. But before you book that trip to the moon, keep in mind that predictions are rarely spot on. When it comes to technology, making the right call is surprisingly rare -even among its inventors.
Efforts to forecast our future fall short of a perfect dream where events can be weighed and measured with the predictability more commonly found in cookbooks the world over. If predictions could be made with the same degree of certainty that a baker employs then where would we find the creative drive to innovate ? In an increasingly uncertain world is it even possible for random acts of genius ? Can we embrace chaos and harness its power ? The paradox is that to plan for the future we must discard the limits of our present. When we accept this seeming contradiction the need for a stable hand is clear if we are to successfully identify the sea that acts as the ultimate source of attraction.
How are we to assess the distance between basic research and the essential technologies of the modern age? Are we in the process of building the bridge that will unite the two domains or is the gulf between them growing wider by the day? Reconciling the interested parties in any definitive way remains difficult as each side can furnish multiple examples to support their perspective on the matter.
The scientific jury may still be out on the causes of global warming (though most polls suggest roughly 11 of 12 climatologists see fossil fuel consumption as the literal smoking gun), but for non-experts, the large number of record-breaking high temperatures, floods, and other extreme weather events in 2010 has shifted the debate from asking is the weather changing to what will happen next.