This week I’m gonna take a break from personal finance and review a math movie. There, I’ve said it. You’ll either stick with me on this post or I’ve significantly alienated a portion of my readers.
But if you wanna stick around (and I sincerely hope you do) then pull up a chair and let’s talk cerebral, math thriller flicks with a good dose of existential soul-searching.
Have you read the important notes before proceeding any further?
P versus NP and Math Thriller Movies
The Travelling Salesman is a movie released in 2012 and now available online for streaming. It’s a sort of cross between A Beautiful Mind and the Bourne Conspiracy, but don’t get your hopes up for the thrills. Most of the action consists of earnest dialog from tense characters stuck in a room.
The story follows a group of mathematicians who have solved the famously unsolved problem “P versus NP” from the field of computational complexity. I can forgive you if you have not heard of this problem, or aren’t familiar with this technical area of mathematical research. However, this problem underpins the integrity of our internet-based society, encompassing online shopping, national security and even crypto-currency.
The problem “P versus NP” is unsolved and is of such importance, and is so fiendishly difficult, that the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge Massachusetts has included it among their seven problems that attract a cool $1m prize for any solution (or disproof).
So that could answer your financial independence problems – simply solve the P versus NP problem and collect your prize. [Method 1 to achieve financial independence. Solve P versus NP problem and collect $1m prize!]
But be careful if you do…
The Ramifications of Solving versus NP
In the movie the mathematicians with the solution are pursued by shady government agents and then have to wrestle with the moral repercussions and ethical dilemma of whether to make the solution public.
So what’s the big deal?
In this context “P” refers to problems that can be solved in a reasonable time with an algorithm. These are ‘easy’ problems. Whereas “NP” refers to problems that might be extremely hard to solve, but if you are given a potential solution then it is quick to check. Think of “NP” problems as like a lock. It’s really hard to create the key to open it, but if you are given a possible key then it’s quick to check whether it will work. The issue is that mathematicians do not know for sure that an “NP” problem is not actually a “P” problem. It might be the case that an NP problem is fundamentally difficult. However, it could be possible that an NP problem has a straightforward solution, but nobody has been smart enough to find it.
The solution of “P versus NP” would have a major impact on cryptography among other areas.
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Cryptography relies on being able to quickly encode and decode messages if you have the right key. It’s no good having a code that would take a computer years to encode and decode the messages. However if you don’t have the key then a code should be super-hard to crack and ideally take a computer several millennia to solve.
But here is the thing – if you could prove that P versus NP was true then cryptographic codes could be easily crackable, and this is why the ramifications of this unsolved puzzle are so important in modern life.
Almost all the internet runs on digital cryptography – think online shopping and any credit card transaction. None of these things can function without secure codes. In other words solving P versus NP could open the door for massive fraud and the demise of modern banking and the internet as we know it. If P=NP was proven to be true then it would be possible to instantaneously mine bitcoin and re-write the blockchain to your own advantage.
If you want to make a killing on Bitcoin then short BTC and start a credible rumor that P=NP has been solved. It’s value will plummet to zero. [Method 2 to achieve financial independence – short Bitcoin and create a rumor that P versus NP has been solved!]
This is really just scratching the surface of the implications of solving P versus NP. Certain computationally difficult problems, such as searching for proteins in biotech, could be quickly solved, curing a number of diseases and conditions. Additionally many algorithms in computer vision could be perfected, resulting in error free face recognition. This would give a complete loss in anonymity as all faces and movements could be tracked without error.
So you can see that solving P versus NP would be big news.
I won’t spoil the end of the movie for you but you might want to think twice before selecting it for a date-night. (Unless of course your date is a mathematician). It’s attracted some pretty polar voting on IMDB with most votes swinging between 9/10 and 1/10 giving an average of 5.9. However, I enjoyed it. But bear in minds that’s coming from an actuary with a penchant for personal finance and personally holding a few mathematics degrees.
Whadya think? Do you want less of the math and more of the personal finance? Do you think my two suggested methods to achieve personal finance are achievable? What about having a Travelling Salesman party, get some Buffalo Chicken dip, and enjoy some cerebral conversation on the finer points of computational complexity?