Shalosh B. Ekhad, the co-author of several papers in respected mathematics journals, has been known to prove with a single, succinct utterance theorems and identities that previously required pages of mathematical reasoning. Last year, when asked to evaluate a formula for the number of integer triangles with a given perimeter, Ekhad performed 37 calculations in less than a second and delivered the verdict: “True.”
Shalosh B. Ekhad is a computer. Or, rather, it is any of a rotating cast of computers used by the mathematician Doron Zeilberger, from the Dell in his New Jersey office to a supercomputer whose services he occasionally enlists in Austria. The name — Hebrew for “three B one” — refers to the AT&T 3B1, Ekhad’s earliest incarnation.
“The soul is the software,” said Zeilberger, who writes his own code using a popular math programming tool called Maple.
A mustachioed, 62-year-old professor at Rutgers University, Zeilberger anchors one end of a spectrum of opinions about the role of computers in mathematics. He has been listing Ekhad as a co-author on papers since the late 1980s “to make a statement that computers should get credit where credit is due.” For decades, he has railed against “human-centric bigotry” by mathematicians: a preference for pencil-and-paper proofs that Zeilberger claims has stymied progress in the field. “For good reason,” he said. “People feel they will be out of business.”