Highlights of ‘Imagine Math 6’ International Conference, Venice 2017


The moment to attend the 6th Imagine Math Conference in Venice arrived. The perfect location chosen every year, as well as the organization token place in Palazzo Franchetti more known as the historical Institute of Arts and Science situated near Piazza del Collegio, with the view of the beautiful Academia bridge.

palazzo franchetti

In the little spare time, I understood why this place is so well known from tourists and locals… The amazing landscape and vacation atmosphere made it the second frequented site after Rialto’s area and the history people breath all around it make this site remarkable.

The conference started on Friday, the 31 of March and ended yesterday, the 2 nd of April with a beautiful boat visit in the little islands of the south part of Venice Laguna, in the direction of Chioggia and Merano. This year the aim was to (re)discover, thanks to a local guide passionate of history, all the unknown views and places that tourist guides do (and can)not underline.

I’ve just arrived in Venice by train from Rome, very curious on the topic. Actually, if you think about the imaginary of mathematics, the first interesting side is around its stochastic aspect, able to tickle everybody nourish a passion for science and scientific discoveries. But, be aware, this is my opinion about 🙂

Well, now let me return back on my description.

On Friday, the sun and the pleasant weather I found in the little calle (the local name for streets) and crowded bridges that bring me to my destination, Venice gave me the right energy to start writing and reflect on the first presentation that Mathematics wants to maintain, when it is mixed with technology, computer science and museum exhibits.

Professors invited at this Conference can be recognized as ones of the most influential in the “interdisciplinary” role that an exact science like mathematics needs to have, so to achieve new developments by the chaotic time we live by and maybe give new contribute to biomedical research, as Professor Alfio Quarteroni put in evidence with his project “Taking Mathematics to Hearth” diseases prevention and analysis. After the registration time, I found a place almost at the end of the beautiful room of the Istituto. Between the gaps thoughts to allow all the speakers organize their presentations, I’ve reflect on why (more than sometimes) we do not trust on the imaginative potential of mathematics…

Well, maybe the main problem with conferences that have the responsibility to underpinned innovation and the results of Math research is that they are too technical, and sometimes the speakers try to do too much in their 20 minutes’ presentations. Why so? why Mathematical knowledge expressed by its symbolical beauty is not sufficient? Why the formulae and their significance become the main partner to frame all presentations “properly”? keeping the attention on something material, relevant, without any need of rational negotiation for a subject that shows, without lots of compromises, its multiple shapes and hues.

Let me say something that I found a common topic in lots of the presentations: the concentration of multiple variables related to complexity is now able to evidence the innovative side of research. How? Let’s start with MUSE Exhibitions, placed in the beautiful Italian city of Trento. In this museum, creative and different solutions are running in pairs with the permanent exhibitions of Natural Sciences. As underlined by Professor Marco Andreatta (President of MUSE) during lots of ideas and visits in international museums exhibitions and science institutes creativity MUSE board dean come out with a new idea: develop new open areas where 3-D simulations and games for adults and children make, every time, the difference as new and key places for learning by doing education on science. This innovative attitude to project expositions MUSE position in one of the beautiful sights surrounded by the Dolomites and Trentino Alto Adige region (UNESCO heritage!) are its two main strengths. Why so? Andreatta says that “finding an equilibrium between both is fundamental to prevent boring of people and allow comprehension of Mathematics and its innovative ideas. Yes, you are reasoning in the right way if you think on how take into account the role of Mathematical Models, Converged Science (Mathematics and Data information) and Statistics together” he says.

Another concept is that nowadays with the lack of stable point of references and strong/ stable family educational inputs, the museum is the right place that show how SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION is fundamental for SOCIETY DEVELOPMENT.

A good example of this concept of open and public space relevance are the FaBLab projects, that aim to educate and improve society awareness on technology and science knowledge. It was nice to see and reflect on how – across time and jumping possible cultural boundaries – it becomes a tool for innovation all over the world because going to a science museum that allow you to build historic sites by 3D printer is something fun, and moreover shows educational values😊. The conference continued with Mathematical (and musical) activities, pretty similar to sounds research, presented to us as a potential tool that can be integrated in the upcoming developments of computer science.

Field experts continued to present and show us how Cell theory, Neuro dynamic theory, Diathermy Theory, Blog designing, Music rules can be though as a mathematics exercise. Independently from age, personal formation and personal attitudes. It was like a new rediscovery on the international and independent values of mathematics!

As well as music conserve its fundamental creative side that can be improved by studying and results that can evidence equilibrium and fascination, so mathematics formulae and theories follow the same rational and (sort of) innovative compilation path. If you are curious enough and you want an example, please have a look on the ‘Triangle of thoughts’ and how it allows to ask ourselves if there is there a direct connection between mathematics and arts. Do we perceive multiple developments of algebra by music? Perhaps a clue can be found in the possibility to make prediction analyzing the structure of the circular representation of the pitch in 3-d simulations, where musical transpositions can be represented and easily recognized by rotation or translations. If you are interested and perhaps want to know more about it, have a further look on www.mathemusics.com developed by Moreno Andreatta, working on this field in the University of Strasburg and CNRS. One of the major fans of symmetries present between major and minor cords (and its topological structure) during musical class application. Professor Andreatta, mathematicians and piano addict, recall us that a proper and fun application learning process can revolutionize math understanding. Perhaps he is in the right path to show it worldwide. For more ideas on interdisciplinary research he suggested us to have a look on CODE (architecture, literature and engineering collaborations): https://code.org/student

Now it is time to ask ourselves if nowadays Mathematics can be thought as a social language… Well let’s imagine that we have a time machine and we can see how in the past, mathematics was born as a social language to arrange the food and stock storage, to keep track of time and to control lunar cycles. Also geometry was created as a social language because it was needed to build constructions (i.e. tales and heights of pyramids) that needed to be well planned and aesthetically accepted by the Pharaoh. It was the turn of Paolo Rossi, professor of physics in the University of Pisa to focus on mathematics – past and present – phenomenology. It was remarkable the liaison made between mathematics and philosophy: the first subject was something free to learn (but the opportunity was only for the rich that was able to study and for the official citizen; because education was not free to everybody yet) but very difficult to handle up. Multiple rules and formulas to follow – and practice every day – to develop a theory was too much for the majority of this niche, that do not hesitate to find afterwards connections with astrology. Charlemagne, Alcuin and Gerbert D’Aurillac tried to pay attention on Arabs innovation and mathematical theories in order create tools able to simplify abstract theory by the use of games that wanted to let people be more active and aware of society. But again, Mathematics education was directed only to a specific part of society. For example? It is sufficient to remark Dante’s Divina Commedia, where math is a way to speak to people that understand its rules and characteristics. The point is that at that time math was still not achievable for everybody, then in the renaissance it was pleased to become a sort of social language with the use of artistic perspective.

Today perhaps we are more interested in games and economic trends, and of course on serials based on crime and detective stories communication. I am  sure that you remember the American TV series Numbers programmed on CBS, right? The intelligence and sensitivity of the college mathematics professor and prodigy, Charlie Eppes, was remarkable when he was involved by his brother Don, FBI agent, to solve crimes with algorithms and intuitions. When philosopher and sociologist Marshall MacLuhan says that the medium is the message (in its deeper sense) we can now understand why television and broadcasting can deliver the sense of importance and beauty around mathematics.

Remaining in theme of risk news and crime prevention, I want to report  what Professor Marco Abate (University of Pisa) pointed out in his speech on “How to prevent crimes using earthquakes” when the statistical error (minority report) negligible for the society at large can be crucial for individual survival.

Nowadays the research industry is giving timing and money to Software development that can stops crime before it happens. Why so? Well, let’s say that good and implemented Algorithm is a way to predict crime. Professor Abate underlined that the aim is to PREVENT before than PREDICT crime. He talked about a new platform, called Predpol.

PredPol grew out of a research project between the Los Angeles Police Department and UCLA. The chief at the time, Bill Bratton, wanted to find a way to use CompStat data for more than just historical purposes. The goal was to understand if this data could provide any forward-looking recommendations as to where and when additional crimes could occur. Being able to anticipate these crime locations and times could allow officers to pre-emptively deploy and help prevent these crimes. Working with mathematicians and behavioral scientists from UCLA and Santa Clara University, the team evaluated a wide variety of data types and behavioral and forecasting models. The models were further refined with crime analysts and officers from LAPD and the Santa Cruz Police Department. They ultimately determined that the three most objective data points collected by police departments provided the best input data for forecasting. But stop your imagination and optimistic rainbow view because unfortunately Predpol is not a predictor of who made the crime, so to be the replacement for veterans and analysts intuition and experience in the crime field prediction.

Predpol can give an idea on when the crime is likely of occur and which kind of crime will occur taking in account some specific information and parameters. How that can be possible? Well, Hotspot maps that can help identify high risks areas. The main opportunity of a proper use of Predpol is to send patrols to the city location with higher percentage of criminal risk. Its Frequency maps are based on past occurrences of a given crime and also the Long term maps have a large amount of data collected over a span of several years; sometimes decades. Predpol is fairly stable and robust, Fairly easy to predict, but still incapable of detecting recent and/or transient phenomena. The maps are based on past occurrences of a given kind of crime. But the main problem for engineers and analyst is that this maps can change in time very fast because it is based on short terms. This latter point is correlated with two concurring phenomena: The first phenomena is the ground state of likelihood of crimes (mostly) due to social, urban, and cultural environment slowly changing in time. And the second one is the spikes of events, often self-exciting, short in time but possibly dangerous because it is related to crime in some sort of way. Yet Professor G.O Mohler (Department of Math) in UCLA & associate with Santa Cruz University had an idea that changed everything. Mathematically the model is easy to be managed but its calibration is still not so easy to arrange because its application are unexpected. One of them, underlying its assumption, is that the location taken into account at the moment of analysis might strongly influence the probability of crimes. What they are modelling is a behavior following standard patterns and it is usually what works, but as Prof. Mohler underlined, it might miss some anomalies. Unfortunately for us it does not seem to be (directly) applicable to terrorism (in the west side of the globe) because there is not enough available data in this field. But is a nice start to reflect on how implement models tech.

After this complex reflections on the role and potential aspects of modelling, it was the turn of French Photographer Vincent Moncorge that described us his work on how capture the right moment and glance when a scientists has an intuition… He says that “With a camera on your hand you can arrive really close on things that are really interesting for you. You can explore the relationship between animals and humans. You can make the reporting work based on contrasts that are relevant for scientific magazines that want to show the reality of the scientist. By a photo reporting project, you can show the aspect of people that not everyone can understand firstly. The scientist is saw as a crazy man, but we need to watch the office of this people that gave their life for science. Scientists are people with their own languages and style of jokes”.

He made this exhibition project “Mathematics, people and forms” thanks to the French Science Research Institute Henry de Poincare, well known all over the world for the high scientific production on mathematics and physics fields. Thinking on the main massage he gave to me and the audience, all of us should reflect on the specific codes and rules of attitude scientists have. With a camera (by the way he uses the Hybrid model of Fujifilm) you need to wait and to not disturb scientists glance. Then if you follow these specific rules you’ll see that photography is similar to magic when it enable you to show the passion and the natural sign in the expression of your subject.

Perhaps today we can find in the tension of  “dialogue” between humanity and mathematical  struggling by the use of photography an adage of Saint Jerome saying that we must: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a be general natural law” to start reflecting on the structure of the polyhedral relation between the formal world of math, the structural development of geometry and the complexity of algorithms shapes that underline multiple dimension, as what imagination and art can rise for us.



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