I teach a course on the History of Mathematics but today’s post concerns a TED talk on the Mathematics of History. This very short talk by Jean-Baptiste Michel serves as a follow up to the one given with Erez Lieberman Aiden on What we learned from 5 million books. The idea is that we can use mathematics to understand history. Unfortunately, the talk is too short to develop a coherent argument and the examples given are not exactly new so I’m not yet convinced that they have something. It should be interesting to see whether this develops...

## 500 Billion Words

posted by Kevin Houston

I haven’t linked to a TED video in a while so here is a very interesting one that is not very mathematical but I’m sure is of interest to mathematicians – even if it tells us that mathematics does not lead to fame. Of particular interest is one of the speakers, Erez Lieberman Aiden, who will be familiar to reader of Cal Newport’s Study Hacks Blog as he has written about him here and here. If you don’t have time to read those (and if you are a student I strongly suggest that you do), then the short story is that Lieberman Aiden has published only six papers but has had an enormous impact because they have been good papers. And I mean good. All have been in Science or Nature and two have been cover articles. The talk in the video is about one of those, the hunt for cultural shifts using the data from Google’s controversial book digitization programme. You can read about it here in the New York Times. Unusually for TED the talk is a two-hander with Lieberman Aiden sharing the stage with Jean-Baptiste Michel. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Michel. He’s obviously a smart guy – he holds a post-doc position at Harvard and is a Visiting Fellow at Google – and yet is overshadowed in the media’s reception of the...