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Abstract

Andrew Lucas recently attended a data science technology conference held in London by computational software company Wolfram. High on the agenda was the role that mathematics plays in understanding big data.

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According to a report, "Making maths and English work for all", from the UK's Education and Training Foundation and quoted in the Daily Telegraph last month, "Over three-quarters of employers believe that action is needed to improve maths and English skills, following concerns that poor skills in these areas can have a real impact on business ..."


Maths Proves Baffling for Many

Concerns about maths education are not confined to the UK; the San Francisco Examiner recently ran a piece saying that: "We [the US] are 36th out of 58 nations on a key mathematics assessment (Program for International Student Assessment). And we have a persistent gap in levels of math achievement between groups of students."

Whilst Asian education systems, such as Singapore, do consistently achieve high standards in maths, many of us in the West continue to find serious maths a baffling subject which we would often rather not think about.

But as we increasingly move towards being knowledge-based economies, maths becomes significantly more important.


Maths Underpins Knowledge Economy

Being able to manipulate, interpret and apply data is key to the effective use of big data. For information managers and professionals who may increasingly be involved in decisions around big data it is important to understand what underpins the tools that are being used, and this is primarily maths.

A recent conference held in London by Wolfram, "Master Your Data with Computation", and described in my recent Subscription Article provided a fascinating insight into the application of computational software and technology and underlined the vital role of maths.


Wolfram - Computational Software Specialist

Wolfram is one of the world's leading developers of computational software for science and technology, providing organisation-wide computing solutions. It is a privately held company with over 700 people with offices in the US, the UK and Japan.

Its flagship product is Mathematica, a computational software program used in many scientific, engineering, mathematical and computing fields. Mathematica has some 5,000 built-in functions covering all areas of technical computing including computer algebra, symbolic and numerical computation, visualisation, and statistics capabilities.

Wolfram also has its own programming language and visualisation tool in the Computable Document Format (CDF).

Its "computational knowledge engine", WolframAlpha, responds to factual queries by computing the answer from curated externally-sourced data. The technology is used in a number of search engines, such as Apple's "Siri".


Why We Can't Ignore Maths Skills

At the London conference. Conrad Wolfram, strategic and international director of Wolfram Research, spoke eloquently about the part played by computation in the world today - "maths is now more used than it ever has been in history" and also about the importance of maths and data science education.

The Subscription Article explores in more depth Wolfram's technology and Conrad Wolfram's insightful analysis of the importance of maths and computation.

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