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Tips for Students: Learning to Invent – How Math Invented a New Way to Control Pandemics

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

This talk introduced a surprisingly simple new method to control pandemics, using Game Theory and Network Theory to leverage human selfishness as a strength instead of a weakness. This invention has the potential to permanently change the way human civilization fights all future pandemics. The Expert Series talk explained this invention in detail, communicating the logic in the technical paper https://arxiv.org/pdf/2010.03806.pdf in simple language. It also explained to the scholar community how they have a duty to use their talents to improve civilization as well. At the same time, the talk revealed how important it is to develop the skill of invention itself. Some resources are shared later on this document below to help develop that skill.

The key idea for this public health invention is superficially extremely simple, but deeply mathematical: whenever there is a newly reported positive diagnosis of a disease, don’t just tell everyone its approximate geographic location. Instead, tell everyone the number of close physical relationships that separate them from the new positive diagnosis. This is an exchange from geometric physical distance to network theoretic distance. Remarkably, if one follows the logic and game theory that ensues, the result is a self-regulating system which controls the spread of the pandemic. It is extraordinarily surprising that such a simple idea went unnoticed, amidst a pandemic that affected more than 7 billion people. This indicates that the skill of invention is generally missed worldwide. Many people are good at applying methods that they have learned before, but the greatest impact is achieved when one is able to invent an entirely new method.

Things students can do to explore this topic further

The full technical paper is at https://arxiv.org/pdf/2010.03806.pdf. An in-depth interview and discussion with Po-Shen Loh on this topic (and many other interesting topics) is the following podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z1JwZbX4dQ. Finally, Po-Shen Loh himself created an entire series of online video courses (https://daily.poshenloh.com) which teach students how to invent mathematically. These run in a novel way, in which the student is always first presented with an unfamiliar problem to contemplate, supported by hints which automatically are provided. The student ends up learning complex math concepts in a way where they invent the methods themselves.

Additional resources

Po-Shen Loh’s main educational resource for students seeking to learn how to invent is at https://daily.poshenloh.com.

He also frequently streams live on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf78EJOm4wQ4xXwSS15PuxQ.

For people who would like to keep up with his educational outreach and scientific work, he operates a biweekly newsletter at https://eepurl.com/gExYzT.

Authored By: Po-Shen Loh
Bio: Po-Shen Loh is a social entrepreneur, working across the spectrum of mathematics, education, and healthcare, all around the world. He is the founder of the free personalized learning platform expii.com, a social enterprise supported by the Daily Challenge with Po-Shen Loh, his online math courses that reinvent the middle school math curriculum with a focus on creative thinking. He is also a math professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the national coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team. Upon the outbreak of COVID-19, he turned his mathematical attention to create NOVID, the world’s first app to introduce the fundamentally different network radar paradigm for pandemic control. As an academic, Po-Shen has earned distinctions ranging from an International Mathematical Olympiad silver medal to the United States Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. As an educator, he was the coach of Carnegie Mellon University’s math team when it achieved its first-ever #1 rank among all North American universities, and the coach of the USA Math Olympiad team when it achieved its first-ever back-to-back #1-rank victories in 2015 and 2016, and then again in 2018 and 2019. His research and educational outreach takes him to cities across the world, reaching over 10,000 people each year through public lectures and events, and he has featured in or co-created videos totaling over 10 million YouTube views.

 

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