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Logic, Maths and Modern Society | Wellington (2 of 2)

Tues 2 Apr
2019 New Zealand Rutherford Lecture
Professor Rod Downey speaks about the significance of mathematical logic in light of our increasing dependence on computing and technology.

2019 New Zealand Rutherford Lecture
Logic, Maths and Modern Society

We are living in the most mathematical age of all time, because of computers. 

The massive computational power at our disposal has driven innovation in all aspects of modern society such as science, medicine, and social development. Mobile phones, internet, GPS, online shopping, banking are commonplace examples, but there’s also medical imaging, data mining, even non-skid braking on vehicles – the impact of computing is extraordinary.

A main contributor to the evolution of computing power is a branch of mathematics called Logic. But what is Logic and how does this type of reasoning contribute to advancing technology?

Rod Downey, Professor of Mathematics and 2018 Rutherford Medal winner, chronicles the story of Logic, beginning with the ancient Greeks, then onwards to some of the deepest and most important issues of modern mathematics and computing – what can we compute and what can’t we compute and why? For instance, ‘NP-complete problems’ can be solved in theory, but are deemed intractable because we actually think solving them would take longer than the life of the universe. On the other hand, there is no (mathematical) proof of this belief – yet. As one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems set by the Clay Mathematics Institute, finding a proof, could earn you $US one million dollars. Rod has developed an approach that shows this intractability can be sidestepped in many practical problems. Does this have an effect on society? How close are we to understanding intractability in practice?

About the speaker

Professor Rod Downey FRSNZ, Victoria University of Wellington

In 2018, mathematician Professor Rod Downey was awarded Royal Society Te Apārangi’s highest science honour, the Rutherford Medal for his revolutionary research into computability, including development of the theory of parameterised complexity and the algorithmic study of randomness. In 2016, he received the Humboldt Research Award and last year he was the first logician from outside Europe/North America to deliver the Gödel Lecture for the Association for Symbolic Logic. Rod is also a keen surfer and Scottish country dancer.

The 2019 New Zealand Rutherford Lecture is proudly presented by Royal Society Te Apārangi in partnership with Victoria University of Wellington.

These talks are free to attend and you are welcome to turn up on the day, however, due to their expected popularity, to guarantee your seat(s) please register by following the booking links.

Views, information or opinions expressed at event belong to individuals involved and may not reflect those of Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Image. World Internet Map 2015 (c) Opte Project

About the award

With the Government providing a prize of $100,000, the Rutherford Medal is given out at Research Honours Aotearoa to recognise eminent research or technological practice by a person in any field of science, mathematics, social science, or technology - the award recipients subsequently present the New Zealand Rutherford Lecture, one of Royal Society Te Apārangi's most highly anticipated annual public events.

The Rutherford Medal and Lecture are named in honour of Ernest Lord Rutherford OM FRS, a world-renowned researcher and innovator, pioneer of nuclear physics and the first to split the atom. Born near Nelson in 1871, Rutherford was awarded the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his theory of atomic structure. He is the only New Zealander to have a chemical element – Rutherfordium – named in his honour. In his final trip to New Zealand in 1925, he was considered an international celebrity and halls were packed to overflowing to hear him give illustrated talks on the structure of the atom. Declaring that he had always been very proud of being a New Zealander, he also publicly encouraged the government to reserve some of the most scenic parts of New Zealand for posterity and supported education and research, which resulted in the establishment of New Zealand's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in 1926. In 1931, he was elevated to Baron Rutherford of Nelson and chose to include in his coat of arms a kiwi, a Māori warrior and Hermes Trismegistus, the patron of knowledge and alchemists. His shield is quartered by the curves of the decay and growth of radioactivity and his Latin motto is 'Primordia quaerere rerum' (To seek the nature of things).

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Professor Rod Downey

Logic, Maths and Modern Society


Royal Society Te Apārangi


Royal Society Te Apārangi, Aronui Lecture Theatre, 11 Turnbull Street, Thorndon, Wellington, Wellington 6011

Tue 2 April, 2019 - 1:00pm Tue 2 April, 2019