Ma(n)thematics: The Man & Mathematics symbiosis

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Yesterday, in the class of Demand Management, Prof. Boman Moradian : A veteran in practical mathematics, made an interesting statement that crafted a new line of thought in my mind : “Quantitative methods can never replace judgment but judgment without Quantitative methods is futile!” Really, knowingly or unknowingly we deal with so many numbers and calculations each day. For that matter, our day starts with the time that is set by subtracting the minimum time it would take us to get ready from the time we need to be out of our house for work (or no work). Some well practiced (lazy) mathematicians take this to next level by precisely subtracting the maximum delay and slack they can afford in waking up. Our mind is tuned to mathematics since we are born and as we grow, maths becomes an inseparable part of our lives. A simple 10 digit number on dialing can give you the biggest happiness or the worst trouble you would have ever imagined. A small alpha numeric password can erode all your wealth on a mere click on your bank’s website. Ringing of alarm, demanding of pocket money, refueling the car at the petrol station, attendance in class, exchanging money for gifts; we do endless mathematical calculations in a day that are executed unconsciously in our mind.  

Over the decades mathematics has grown from ‘zero’, in the times of Aryabhatta, to the heights of artificial intelligence, future forecasting and computational sciences in 21st century. Mathematics is one language that is universal and has no cultural or geographical barriers. Addition means A+B, no matter which part of the world you live in or how educated you are! Who developed all this? Man, of course. But again, who is driven by all these numbers? The answer remains the same – Man.

At the face of it, it looks common sense that man would obviously develop something that would make his own life easier. And this is nothing but a symbiotic relationship between man and mathematics. But imagine if tomorrow, you join a hi-tech sci-fi company and to your utter surprise, your boss happens to be a humanoid who is watching every move of yours and calculating your productivity, efficiency, delay and all sorts of metrics, every milli-second!! That’s ma(n)thematics - Man and Mathematics in perfect symbiosis.

All this sounds strange at first place but THIS IS exactly where mathematics is leading the technology to. We had invented mathematics so that we make science easier to understand and make machines that could do good to us and thus, could be slave to us. But were we able to stop ourselves there? I would say it’s already too late! We are living in the world of virtual reality where man is being driven by maths. Sensex is the biggest example of that. One sudden plunge in numbers and people are pushed to the suicidal limits. The economics downturn that has affected the lives of millions of people is nothing else but a big speculated number game! Demand forecasting is one area that is clearly showing the paradigm shift in this symbiotic relationship of ma(n)thematics. It started with a ledger and a pencil that was worthless without manual calculations. But today the demand manager would be having a cozy sleep in the bed when the ERP system would have done all the possible calculations and have taken the decision of ordering quantity by forecasting the future demand in the best possible manner.

I am not questioning the positive facets of mathematics but the way it is moving, is forcing me to reflect on the dark side of it. These calculations and over calculations have penetrated to the roots of relationships too and so, instead of affection, the relationships are more being driven by ROR: Return on Relationship. The time spent with the people has become investment whose return we expect in short or long run. At least this is not what Aryabhatta had devoted his life for. With numbers and machines everywhere, I am afraid this symbiotic relationship would no doubt become everlasting but at the core of it, it would isolate the man having friends as machines but not FRIENDS!!

Gaurav

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