Simon Palmer’s blog

September 28, 2008

The most pointless activity in the world?

Filed under: comment — simonpalmer @ 7:55 pm

I read this on the BBC news web site today…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7640183.stm

The news is that a team of scientists at UCLA have “discovered” a new prime number with 13 million digits.

I can’t quite decide which is more pointless, the number (nobody could ever read it), the search for the number (how could we possibly verify it, and why do we care, we already know all its properties) or the news item that reported it (maybe complete suckers).  Amazingly the Scientists are up for a large cash prize, and gung-ho about discovering the next one.  *clunk*  That was the sound of my incredulity hitting the floor.

Now, I like maths and I like prime numbers, but I really don’t see the point in going to all these lengths to enumerate them.  You could argue that it is an interesting use of distributed computing (if indeed that is how it was achieved) but this seems like a wholly pointless application.  I mean, why not do something genuinely useful that may advance a field of research which has some human benefit.

A quick visit to the UCLA web site will reveal that they might be thinking the same thing.  I couldn’t find any reference to this story there at all.  I presume there must be one, but I couldn’t find it.  Not exactly trumpeting it from the rooftops at UCLA.

I am busy trying to think of something which has a similar level of pointlessness.  Suggestions welcome.

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