A real-life spy like James Bond would have to be better with his brains than his fists, according to maths campaigners.
With No Time to Die, the latest instalment of the James Bond franchise, hitting the theatres soon, we’re all excited to see Daniel Craig in his final outing as the suave spy 007.
But a maths organisation has claimed that for real-life spooks it’s most likely a case of ‘No Time to Pi’.
While there’s no shortage of proficient fighters and beefcakes like James Bond, military brass have warned that they need more geeks like Q.
Maths experts from Protect Pure Maths certainly echo this sentiment, saying that when it comes to spying ‘maths saves lives’.
While Daniel Craig’s Bond enjoys exotic locations, cutting edge gadgets and glamorous sidekicks the real 007s are better with their brains than their fists.
Government spy centre GCHQ is believed to be the biggest employer of mathematicians in the country.
Earlier this month, Head of Strategic Command General Sir Patrick Sanders issued a plea for more recruits in the mould of Ben Whishaw’s weedy but technologically expert character Q. Sir Patrick said: “I have far more need of Q than I do of 007.”
Following this, the Heilbron Institute, an arm of GCHQ, put out a statement on the role of maths on its website. It stressed that the organisation ‘brings pure mathematics to bear on problems of crucial importance to GCHQ’s twin intelligence and cybersecurity missions, thereby helping to protect the United Kingdom and its citizens’.
The Heilbron Institute sees GCHQ team up with UK universities to bring in academic mathematicians to work on particularly knotty problems of national security.
Dominic Cummings credited mathematician Sir Tim Gowers with producing the Covid models that convinced government to embrace lockdown back in 2020.
When Sir Tim was recently asked if he’d ever worked for the state on security matters he denied it before adding: “I’m not sure whether I’d be allowed to tell you if I had, so I’m not sure whether you ought to believe me.”
Sir Tim has given his support to the Protect Pure Maths campaign – a group rallying to ensure pure maths – such as the type used by Alan Turing – is still taught. The amount of educational facilities teaching pure maths has seen a decline as applied maths gains popularity.
Sir Tim said: “A society that supports pure mathematics is much richer for it, both culturally and economically.”
The campaign, which is led by the London Mathematical Society, was established to promote all mathematics and make the case for better funding for maths research.
They are currently calling on the government to honour its pledge to put an extra £300 million into the mathematical sciences when it unveils its spending plans at the Comprehensive Spending Review next month.
Perhaps the most famous mathematician involved in national security was Alan Turing.
He was working on maths problems before the Second World War that then proved to be vital in decrypting the German Enigma code machine. The work carried out at GCHQ’s Cheltenham base today draws a line straight back to Turing’s work.
In fact the organisation unveiled an artwork of Turing at the centre of its doughnut-shaped HQ earlier this year.
Marcus du Sautoy is the author of a number of books in maths. In his latest, ‘Thinking Better; the art of the shortcut’, he explains how maths is used by spies to detect patterns in online communications.
Unusual patterns among Facebook users for example can raise suspicions and help identify terrorists.
He said: “Maths saves lives. Since World War Two, the work of Turing and others at Bletchley Park the UK has been at the forefront of using maths to protect our information and to detect other people’s information.
“When MI5 director Ken McCallum revealed recently that over 30 terror plots have been foiled in the last four years what he didn’t say is that it was the appliance of maths that almost certainly helped in identifying the suspects and stopping their plans.
“Government funding for all mathematical sciences including pure maths won’t just boost the economy and lead to new innovations it’s an investment in keeping all of us safe.”
It’s even possible that creator Ian Fleming had maths in mind when he brought James Bond to life.
Mystery still surrounds exactly why the superspy is also known as 007 but keen eyed mathematicians will have clocked that seven is a prime number – one of a special set of numbers only divisible by one and by themselves and key to the sort of modern cryptography that lies at the heart of the work of the modern security services.