The main objectives of the polymath8 project, initiated back in June, were to understand the recent breakthrough paper of Zhang establishing an infinite number of prime gaps bounded by a fixed constant , and then to lower that value of as much as possible. After a large number of refinements, optimisations, and other modifications to Zhang’s method, we have now lowered the value of from the initial value of down to (provisionally) , as well as to the slightly worse value of if one wishes to avoid any reliance on the deep theorems of Deligne on the Weil conjectures.
As has often been the case with other polymath projects, the pace has settled down subtantially after the initial frenzy of activity; in particular, the values of (and other key parameters, such as , , and ) have stabilised over the last few weeks. While there may still be a few small improvements in these parameters that can be wrung out of our methods, I think it is safe to say that we have cleared out most of the “low-hanging fruit” (and even some of the “medium-hanging fruit”), which means that it is time to transition to the next phase of the polymath project, namely the writing phase.
After some discussion at the previous post, we have tentatively decided on writing a single research paper, which contains (in a reasonably self-contained fashion) the details of the strongest result we have (i.e. bounded gaps with ), together with some variants, such as the bound that one can obtain without invoking Deligne’s theorems. We can of course also include some discussion as to where further improvements could conceivably arise from these methods, although even if one assumes the most optimistic estimates regarding distribution of the primes, we still do not have any way to get past the barrier of identified as the limit of this method by Goldston, Pintz, and Yildirim. This research paper does not necessarily represent the only output of the polymath8 project; for instance, as part of the polymath8 project the admissible tuples page was created, which is a repository of narrow prime tuples which can automatically accept (and verify) new submissions. (At an early stage of the project, it was suggested that we set up a computing challenge for mathematically inclined programmers to try to find the narrowest prime tuples of a given width; it might be worth revisiting this idea now that our value of has stabilised and the prime tuples page is up and running.) Other potential outputs include additional expository articles, lecture notes, or perhaps the details of a “minimal proof” of bounded gaps between primes that gives a lousy value of but with as short and conceptual a proof as possible. But it seems to me that these projects do not need to proceed via the traditional research paper route (perhaps ending up on the blog, on the wiki, or on the admissible tuples page instead). Also, these projects might also benefit from the passage of time to lend a bit of perspective and depth, especially given that there are likely to be further advances in this field from outside of the polymath project.
I have taken the liberty of setting up a Dropbox folder containing a skeletal outline of a possible research paper, and anyone who is interested in making significant contributions to the writeup of the paper can contact me to be given write access to that folder. However, I am not firmly wedded to the organisational structure of that paper, and at this stage it is quite easy to move sections around if this would lead to a more readable or more logically organised paper.
I have tried to structure the paper so that the deepest arguments – the ones which rely on Deligne’s theorems – are placed at the end of the paper, so that a reader who wishes to read and understand a proof of bounded gaps that does not rely on Deligne’s theorems can stop reading about halfway through the paper. I have also moved the top-level structure of the argument (deducing bounded gaps from a Dickson-Hardy-Littlewood claim , which in turn is established from a Motohashi-Pintz-Zhang distribution estimate , which is in turn deduced from Type I, Type II, and Type III estimates) to the front of the paper.
Of course, any feedback on the draft paper is encouraged, even from (or especially from!) readers who have been following this project on a casual basis, as this would be valuable in making sure that the paper is written in as accessible as fashion as possible. (Sometimes it is possible to be so close to a project that one loses some sense of perspective, and does not realise that what one is writing might not necessarily be as clear to other mathematicians as it is to the author.)