Keith Devlin

Keith Devlin

Dr. Keith Devlin, known to many as NPR's "Math Guy," is Executive Director of Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Information and a Consulting Professor of Mathematics at Stanford. He is the 2007 recipient of the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.

Devlin is a co-founder of Stanford's Media X network—a campus-wide research network focused on the design and use of interactive technologies—and its Executive Director. He is the author of many popular books as well as scholarly research. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a World Economic Forum Fellow. He has received numerous awards.

Devlin has a B.Sc. degree in Mathematics from King's College London (1968) and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Bristol (1971).

His current research work is centered around the task of applying mathematical techniques to issues of language and information and the design of information systems.

He is a regular contributor to NPR's popular magazine program Weekend Edition (where he is known as "the Math Guy") and a frequent contributor to various other local and national radio programs, both in the USA and Britain, commenting on advances in mathematics and computing. He writes a monthly column, "Devlin's Angle," on the web journal MAA Online.

Book awards

Life by the Numbers, the companion to the six-part PBS television series of the same name, for which he was an advisor, published by John Wiley in 1998, was nominated for the BABRA Award.

Logic and Information, published by Cambridge University Press in 1991, won the American Association of Publishers award as "Most Outstanding Book in Computer Science and Data Processing of 1991".

The Math Gene and The Language of Mathematics won the Italian Peano Prize for 2003.

The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution
(Walker & Co, 2011)

In 1202, a 32-year old Italian finished one of the most influential books of all time, which introduced modern arithmetic to Western Europe. Devised in India in the 7th and 8th centuries and brought to North Africa by Muslim traders, the Hindu-Arabic system helped transform the West into the dominant force in science, technology, and commerce, leaving behind Muslim cultures which had long known it but had failed to see its potential.

The young Italian, Leonardo of Pisa (better known today as Fibonacci), had learned the Hindu number system when he traveled to North Africa with his father, a customs agent. The book he created was Liber abbaci, the "Book of Calculation," and the revolution that followed its publication was enormous. Arithmetic made it possible for ordinary people to buy and sell goods, convert currencies, and keep accurate records of possessions more readily than ever before. Liber abbaci's publication led directly to large-scale international commerce and the scientific revolution of the Renaissance.


The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible
(Holt Paperbacks, 2000)

"The great book of nature," said Galileo, "can be read only by those who know the language in which it was written. And this language is mathematics." In The Language of Mathematics, award-winning author Keith Devlin reveals the vital role mathematics plays in our eternal quest to understand who we are and the world we live in. More than just the study of numbers, mathematics provides us with the eyes to recognize and describe the hidden patterns of life—patterns that exist in the physical, biological, and social worlds without, and the realm of ideas and thoughts within.

Taking the reader on a wondrous journey through the invisible universe that surrounds us—a universe made visible by mathematics—Devlin shows us what keeps a jumbo jet in the air, explains how we can see and hear a football game on TV, allows us to predict the weather, the behavior of the stock market, and the outcome of elections. Microwave ovens, telephone cables, children's toys, pacemakers, automobiles, and computers—all operate on mathematical principles. Far from a dry and esoteric subject, mathematics is a rich and living part of our culture. An exploration of an often woefully misunderstood subject, The Language of Mathematics celebrates the simplicity, the precision, the purity, and the elegance of mathematics.


The Unfinished Game:
Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern
(Basic Books, 2008)

Before the mid-seventeenth century, scholars generally agreed that it was impossible to predict something by calculating mathematical outcomes. One simply could not put a numerical value on the likelihood that a particular event would occur. Even the outcome of something as simple as a dice roll or the likelihood of showers instead of sunshine was thought to lie in the realm of pure, unknowable chance.

The issue remained intractable until Blaise Pascal wrote to Pierre de Fermat in 1654, outlining a solution to the “unfinished game” problem: how do you divide the pot when players are forced to end a game of dice before someone has won? The idea turned out to be far more seminal than Pascal realized. From it, the two men developed the method known today as probability theory.

In The Unfinished Game, mathematician and NPR commentator Keith Devlin tells the story of this correspondence and its remarkable impact on the modern world: from insurance rates, to housing and job markets, to the safety of cars and planes, calculating probabilities allowed people, for the first time, to think rationally about how future events might unfold.


The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics
(Plume, 2007)

The companion to the hit CBS crime series Numb3rs presents the fascinating way mathematics is used to fight real-life crime

Using the popular CBS prime-time TV crime series Numb3rs as a springboard, Keith Devlin (known to millions of NPR listeners as “the Math Guy” on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon) and Gary Lorden (the principal math advisor to Numb3rs) explain real-life mathematical techniques used by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to catch and convict criminals. From forensics to counterterrorism, the Riemann hypothesis to image enhancement, solving murders to beating casinos, Devlin and Lorden present compelling cases that illustrate how advanced mathematics can be used in state-of-the-art criminal investigations.


The Millennium Problems:
The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles Of Our Time

(Basic Books, 2003)

In 2000, the Clay Foundation announced a historic competition: whoever could solve any of seven extraordinarily difficult mathematical problems, and have the solution acknowledged as correct by the experts, would receive $1 million in prize money. There was some precedent for doing this: In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert proposed twenty-three problems that set much of the agenda for mathematics in the twentieth century. The Millennium Problems--chosen by a committee of the leading mathematicians in the world--are likely to acquire similar stature, and their solution (or lack of it) is likely to play a strong role in determining the course of mathematics in the twenty-first century. Keith Devlin, renowned expositor of mathematics and one of the authors of the Clay Institute's official description of the problems, here provides the definitive account for the mathematically interested reader.


The Math Gene:
How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers are Like Gossip
(Basic Books, 2001)

Why is math so hard? And why, despite this difficulty, are some people so good at it? If there’s some inborn capacity for mathematical thinking—which there must be, otherwise no one could do it —why can’t we all do it well? Keith Devlin has answers to all these difficult questions, and in giving them shows us how mathematical ability evolved, why it’s a part of language ability, and how we can make better use of this innate talent.He also offers a breathtakingly new theory of language development—that language evolved in two stages, and its main purpose was not communication—to show that the ability to think mathematically arose out of the same symbol-manipulating ability that was so crucial to the emergence of true language. Why, then, can’t we do math as well as we can speak? The answer, says Devlin, is that we can and do—we just don’t recognize when we’re using mathematical reasoning.


The Math Instinct:
Why You're a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs)
(Basic Books, 2006)

There are two kinds of math: the hard kind and the easy kind. The easy kind, practiced by ants, shrimp, Welsh Corgis — and us — is innate. But what innate calculating skills do we humans have? Leaving aside built-in mathematics, such as the visual system, ordinary people do just fine when faced with mathematical tasks in the course of the day. Yet when they are confronted with the same tasks presented as "math," their accuracy often drops. If we have innate mathematical ability, why do we have to teach math and why do most of us find it so hard to learn? Are there tricks or strategies that the ordinary person can do to improve mathematical ability? Can we improve our math skills by learning from dogs, cats, and other creatures that "do math?" The answer to each of these questions is a qualified yes. All these examples of animal math suggest that if we want to do better in the formal kind of math, we should see how it arises from natural mathematics. From NPR's "Math Guy," The Math Instinct is a real celebration of innate math sense and will provide even the most number-phobic readers with confidence in their own mathematical abilities.


Goodbye, Descartes:
The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind
(Wiley, 1998)

Critically-acclaimed author Keith Devlin shows how the concept of the mind as a logic machine developed and came to be so widely accepted. Along the way, we encounter the genius of ancient logicians such as Socrates and Zeno of Elea and learn about the logic puzzles they invented. We also meet towering figures of the late nineteenth century, such as Alan Turing, who invented the logic of computing, and Noam Chomsky, who proposed that all human languages are essentially logical and follow universal rules. Reveals a host of findings in the past 2,000 years which demonstrates that logic does not begin to describe how the mind really works. He also shows how efforts to use logic to create "thinking machines" have failed miserably and why those failures demonstrate that no machine would ever think the way the human mind does.

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution

"A must-read for anyone interested in the history of math, including undergraduates, mathematicians, and amateur historians." – Library Journal

"The author…is adept at explaining esoteric concepts at the heart of old arithmetic problems, allowing readers to peer into the mind of a medieval Italian businessman." – The Wall Street Journal

"A wonderful and vivid tale about the father of modern mathematics" – Shelf Awareness

"Devlin illuminates one of the most remarkable and underappreciated episodes in cultural history… A surprising visit to a forgotten well-spring of modern thought." – Booklist

"Three cheers for Leonardo Pisano… A wonderful book for history-of-science buffs." – Kirkus Reviews


SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
The Unfinished Game

New Scientist
“This breezy book shows why probability theory, though not Pascal and Fermat’s last, was undoubtedly their most important theorem.”
 
Washington Times
“Mr. Devlin shares the great mathematicians’ correspondence, walks readers through critical mathematical problems and contextualizes it all in a lively narrative. The book is a refreshing testimony to the rewards of thinking rationally about how future events might unfold.... [A] rewarding read…. Mr. Devlin does a remarkable job of showing just how much derived from the history-changing Pascal-Fermat correspondence.”

MAA Online
“This book is not only about mathematics. It is also a tale of how mathematics, and science in general, is really done…. Very well written and accessible to everyone…. This is highly recommended reading…. [It] should find a place in every mathematician’s library.”

Booklist
“Devlin depicts Fermat as leading Pascal toward correct understanding of probability’s underlying logic, through quotation of the entire letter and a characteristically clear explanation of the logic of probability with which Pascal struggled. A rewarding account for math buffs.”

David Berlinski, author of The Devil’s Delusion and A Tour of the Calculus
“I’ve been a faithful reader of Keith Devlin’s work for a long time, and this is the best thing I’ve seen from his pen. It combines a lightness of touch, an understanding of the sources, an absence of any sort of intrusive self, and a sensitive and error-free presentation of the mathematics.”

Fibonacci & the Golden Ratio Exposed | September 2011

MoMath Executive Director Glen Whitney interviews Keith Devlin after his September, 2011 Math Encounters presentation. Math Encounters is a public presentation series celebrating the spectacular world of mathematics and presented by the Simons Foundation and the Museum of Mathematics.


Authors@Google Presentation | October 2, 2008

Keith discusses his book The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern.

Before the mid-seventeenth century, scholars generally agreed that it was impossible to predict something by calculating mathematical outcomes. One simply could not put a numerical value on the likelihood that a particular event would occur. The issue remained intractable until Blaise Pascal wrote to Pierre de Fermat in 1654, outlining a solution to the "unfinished game" problem: how do you divide the pot when players are forced to end a game of dice before someone has won? The idea turned out to be far more seminal than Pascal realized. From it, the two men developed the method known today as probability theory. In The Unfinished Game, mathematician and NPR commentator Keith Devlin tells the story of this correspondence and its remarkable impact on the modern world.