Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Jim Simons (1938-2024)

Jim Simons passed away Friday at the age of 86. In short he was a math professor who quit to use math to make money before it was fashionable and used part of his immense wealth to start the Simons Foundation to advance research in mathematics and the basic sciences.

While his academic research focused on manifolds, Simons and his foundation had theoretical computer science as one of its priorities and helped fund and promote our field on several fronts.

Foremost of course is the Simons Institute, a center for collaborative research in theoretical computer science. Announced as a competition in 2010 (I was on team Chicago) with the foundation eventually landing on UC Berkeley's campus. At the time, I wrote "this will be a game changer for CS theory" if anything proven to be an understatement over the last dozen years.

Beyond the institute, the Simons Foundation has funded a number of theorists through their investigator and other programs.

Let's not forget Quanta Magazine, an online science publication funded by the foundation without subscriptions or paywalls while science journalism has been seeing cuts elsewhere. Quanta has been particularly friendly to the computational complexity community such as this recent article on Russell and his worlds.

The Simons Foundation will continue strong even without its founder. But as we see challenges in government funding, how much can or should we count on wealthy patrons to support our field?

Read more on Jim Simons from Scott, Dick, the foundation and the institute.


  1. (Bill) How much MATH did he use to make his millions (billions?) I knew an economist who made a killing on the stock market but told me that while the popular press linked his day job with his day trading, there was very little connection. I knew a Software engineer who founded a company and told me that his academic work and his company's work were further apart then he thought they would be. SO I wonder about the connection between Simons Math and Simons company. As always, I ask nonrhetorically.

    1. I'm pretty sure that Simons's company considers their algorithms proprietary, so people who know won't be able to tell you.

      While the superrich often try to burnish their reputations by turning to philanthropy, one should ask whether in a better world they would have gotten so rich. See

    2. I find such speculative comments rather distasteful. Surely, in that a different world, he would have found other outlets for his energy and creativity.

    3. I think the statements in the article are fare. He got rich but was it a result of making that world a better place? Don't seem so.

      Did he do good math and did he use the money he earned in good places? Yes.

      The criticism is not about him, but about the system that allows some people to get very rich without actually contributing much to society.

    4. I don't think most people can recall the name of rich aristocrats that funded the works of Davinci.

      Most of us don't care much who supported renaissance patrons of art and science, though without them, most likely these geniuses would not have the freedom to do all the amazing works they produced.