24 October 2007

Open Source Mathematics

Suppose Jane is a well-known mathematician who announces she has proved a theorem. We probably will believe her, but she knows that she will be required to produce a proof if requested. However, suppose now Jane says a theorem is true based partly on the results of software. The closest we can reasonably hope to get to a rigorous proof (without new ideas) is the open inspection and ability to use all the computer code on which the result depends. If the program is proprietary, this is not possible. We have every right to be distrustful, not only due to a vague distrust of computers but because even the best programmers regularly make mistakes.

Seems pretty obvious, really: no open source, no transparency, no way of following the logic, no proof: QED.

And if you can't really believe closed source for maths or science, why should you believe it in business? How can you check an accountancy program, say, if you can't see the code? And don't even get me started on closed-source e-voting machines... (Via The Inquirer.)

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