Today I watched a video from Derek Muller (great name 😎👍🏽) called The Most Important Algorithm Of All Time.

The video discusses a game-changing piece of mathematical and scientific wisdom that, had it been known to the scientific community in 1958, could have prevented the nuclear proliferation of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and would have likely ended the Cold War 30 years early! 1

It’s a great video! I love and recommend Derek’s content!

One piece of shocking insight stuck out to me:

This algorithm (the “Fast Fourier Transform”) was first discovered in 1805 by mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. However, Gauss didn’t think it was really useful or important, so he didn’t publish it. He just kept it in one of his notebooks, in a language and notation that made it inaccessible to the world.

It wasn’t until well after Gauss’ algorithm could have changed the course of history that we realized he had discovered such an important piece of wisdom. Unfortunately, Gauss dropped the ball in sharing that valuable insight with the world, largely because he didn’t actually see his discovery as valuable.

The Cold War lasted over three decades longer than it should have because Gauss underestimated the usefulness of one of his discoveries and decided not to share it.

Seth Godin talks a lot about the importance of the idea of Showing Your Work. This story underscores that truth all the more to me.

You might not have an insight that could prevent a war or nuclear proliferation. But, you probably do have some wisdom or insight that could change someone’s life.

It’s worth sharing that wisdom!

Throw it on a blog, in a video, or in a book so others can find it and benefit from it!

Showing our work (even work we don’t think is valuable), and making that work accessible to the world, could have prevented a nuclear arms race and significantly lowered the threat of humans ending all life on our planet.

That seems to me like a good enough reason for us to share the things we’re learning in an accessible way for those who want to benefit from those insights.

  1. Or, maybe even as early as 1946, though that’s a bit less likely. ↩︎