Step 1: Post Elusive Proof. Step 2: Watch Fireworks.

The potential of internet-based collaboration was vividly demonstrated this month when complexity theorists used blogs and wikis to pounce on a claimed proof for one of the most profound and difficult problems facing mathematicians and computer scientists, reports the New York Times. Vinay Deolalikar, a mathematician and electrical engineer at Hewlett-Packard, posted a proof of what is known as the “P vs. NP” problem on a web site, and he quietly notified a number of the key researchers in a field of study that focuses on problems that are solvable only with the application of immense amounts of computing power. By the middle of last week, although Dr. Deolalikar had not backed away from his claim, a consensus had emerged among complexity theorists that the proposed proof had several significant shortcomings. What was highly significant, however, was the pace of discussion and analysis, carried out in real time on blogs and a wiki that had been quickly set up for the purpose of collectively analyzing the paper. This kind of collaboration has emerged only in recent years in the math and computer science communities. In the past, intense discussions like this were carried about via private eMail and distribution lists, as well as in the pages of traditional paper-based science journals. Now, with the emergence of web-connected software programs, it’s possible for such collaborative undertakings to harness the brainpower of the world’s best thinkers on a continuous basis…

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