Has one of math's greatest mysteries, the Riemann hypothesis, finally been solved?

Has one of math's greatest mysteries, the Riemann hypothesis, finally been solved?
A prime mystery. Credit: Robert Lessmann/shutterstock.com

Over the past few days, the mathematics world has been abuzz over the news that Sir Michael Atiyah, the famous Fields Medalist and Abel Prize winner, claims to have solved the Riemann hypothesis.

If his proof turns out to be correct, this would be one of the most important mathematical achievements in many years. In fact, this would be one of the biggest results in , comparable to the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem from 1994 and the proof of the Poincare Conjecture from 2002.

Besides being one of the great unsolved in mathematics and therefore garnishing glory for the person who solves it, the Riemann hypothesis is one of the Clay Mathematics Institute's "Million Dollar Problems." A solution would certainly yield a pretty profitable haul: one million dollars.

The Riemann hypothesis has to do with the distribution of the prime numbers, those integers that can be divided only by themselves and one, like 3, 5, 7, 11 and so on. We know from the Greeks that there are infinitely many primes. What we don't know is how they are distributed within the integers.

The problem originated in estimating the so-called "prime pi" function, an equation to find the number of primes less than a given number. But its modern reformulation, by German mathematician Bernhard Riemann in 1858, has to do with the location of the zeros of what is now known as the Riemann zeta function.

Has one of math's greatest mysteries, the Riemann hypothesis, finally been solved?
A visualization of the Riemann zeta function. Credit: Jan Homann/Wikimedia, CC BY

The technical statement of the Riemann hypothesis is "the zeros of the Riemann zeta function which lie in the critical strip must lie on the critical line." Even understanding that statement involves graduate-level mathematics courses in complex analysis.

Most mathematicians believe that the Riemann hypothesis is indeed true. Calculations so far have not yielded any misbehaving zeros that do not lie in the critical line. However, there are infinitely many of these zeros to check, and so a computer calculation will not verify all that much. Only an abstract proof will do.

If, in fact, the Riemann hypothesis were not true, then mathematicians' current thinking about the distribution of the would be way off, and we would need to seriously rethink the primes.

The Riemann hypothesis has been examined for over a century and a half by some of the greatest names in mathematics and is not the sort of problem that an inexperienced math student can play around with in his or her spare time. Attempts at verifying it involve many very deep tools from complex analysis and are usually very serious ones done by some of the best names in mathematics.

Atiyah gave a lecture in Germany on Sept. 25 in which he presented an outline of his approach to verify the Riemann hypothesis. This outline is often the first announcement of the solution but should not be taken that the problem has been solved – far from it. For mathematicians like me, the "proof is in the pudding," and there are many steps that need to be taken before the community will pronounce Atiyah's solution as correct. First, he will have to circulate a manuscript detailing his solution. Then, there is the painstaking task of verifying his proof. This could take quite a lot of time, maybe months or even years.

Is Atiyah's attempt at the Riemann serious? Perhaps. His reputation is stellar, and he is certainly capable enough to pull it off. On the other hand, there have been several other serious attempts at this problem that did not pan out. At some point, Atiyah will need to circulate a manuscript that experts can check with a fine-tooth comb.

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User comments

Sep 28, 2018
Mathematicians like me, also without an Erdős Number, hope for the beauty of the linkage of physics with mathematics via the Fine Structure Constant.

Sep 28, 2018
Analytic continuum would leave but one point, where a dual in a Langland could solve by definition. Who needs tractable with the absurdity of abstraction's assumption? And yet fundamental mode is not background free. An ontic claim of riemannian coordinates would fulfill the information singularity, while proclaiming the non-singular thesis the winner. Maybe we just agree we are the yet to be sheafed.

Sep 28, 2018
Good thing English isn't needed in mathematics. That column was repetitive and not well-written.

Sep 29, 2018
It's weird how Atiyah is suggesting he's proved Riemann's by ideas tried a century ago. That makes me suspicious.

Sep 29, 2018
A point I have provided for others to loon into.
If p(i) is the i'th prime, pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter and [] is the greatest integer function, then the scatter graph of sin(p(i)) over a large range resembles a series of overlapping sine curves, with regular missing curves. The graph of sin(i) resembles a series of nested hexagons, like chicken wire.
This suggested a connection between pi and the primes. The scatter graph of (p(i)/pi)-[p(i)/pi] yields pencils of ten parallel straight lines, each bundle separated by a space big enough for another line. This happens with no other number.
The similarity of p(i+1)-p(i) to sin(i) over small ranges suggests that sums of functions. f(sin(g(i)) could resemble p(i+1)-p(i). In fact, sums of f(sin(g(i)), each multiplied by i^(1/pi), the sum then multiplied by ln(i)^a/(i^(1/pi))^b can yield a curve close to a constant.

Sep 30, 2018
Pi is not a prime.

On Earth.

Oct 01, 2018
Has one of Math's greatest Mysteries, the #RiemannHypothesis, finally been solved by Sir #MichaelAtiyah, who I conferred with on the #Asynsis principle at #AlainConnes' #FudanUni #NCG tribute in #Shanghai last year, April 2017?

Oct 01, 2018

If zeta function is expressed in terms of (infinite dimensional) vectors, the answer is obvious.

Oct 02, 2018
Pi is not a prime.

On Earth.

1) No one said as much, just that maybe there's a connection,
2) Please share your thoughts on the incredibly rigorous and elegant connections to pi Atiyah has drawn, and
3) On Earth it appears we're in a 4-dimensional spacetime geometry, so while the Euclidean definition of pi in the classroom doesn't change, the _value_ of pi in the lab is actually constantly changing, and a truly proper calculation of its value in a meaningful way would necessarily depend on a measurement of the gravitational wave background...
4) It would be nice to hear everyone's thoughts on #2...

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