My Unfortunate Obsession

David Smith
4 min readNov 2, 2020


Since the day I heard about it, I wanted to solve it. I will go months where I forget about it and then something will prompt me to think about it again and it will keep me awake all night. I am told there is no solution, at least any easy solutions.

The obsession prompted me to study 3 different programming languages in the hopes what I learn will help me explore it. It is a problem that if I did solve would change the world. I think it threatens to knock down the systems we have built since the 90’s.

The concept is simple. Prime numbers are numbers that can only be divided by 1 and itself. If you take two of these and multiple then you get a number called a semi-prime which is only divisible by 1 and itself and the two prime numbers used to create it. This is significant because it is the basis for encryption of information on the internet because the larger the semi-prime the harder it is to find the two prime numbers that made it. Find the prime numbers and you can solve the encryption. It’s inherent difficulty is what makes it secure. There are no computers fast enough to solve it easily at this time.

Knowing what I know about it and what it would do to the world if I solved it, I believe the problem is still worth solving. I’m not a math student. I do not have a degree in anything. I just love this puzzle.

When I get to thinking about it, I get caught up in theories and hunches that my mind would take a couple of days to get over. The apparent randomness of prime numbers to me is like staring that the static of a television or listening to the static on the radio. It’s like I can hear it. The answer.

I had people make problems for me solve. Small semi-primes to nibble on. My thinking about it is that there has to be a pattern. To find it I need to compare the number to other numbers, or compare the methods of solving the numbers close to the semi-prime to find an algorithm that tells you how to solve it, not what the answer is. It kind of reminds me of the gravity problem. It exists but no one knows how. I need to know how a semi-prime exists.

I don’t know what the answer will look like. I feel it will be a study of preceding numbers and solving their factors that will tell someone where to look for the factors of the semi-prime. A short cut to the answer, not the direct answer. It’s like those short cuts for how to find out if a number is divisible by 9. It’s like having 2 ears to determine the direction of a sound. The preceding numbers will tell you where to look for the prime numbers not what they are. Your ears just tell you which direction to look.

I have some thoughts on where the problem will be solved. Block chain miners come to mind due to the brute force of calculations needed to do it. If every computer was installed a program to work on every semi-prime towards infinity, encryption could use semi-primes only up to the limit that the collective has solved and recorded. This technology, written by one industrious hacker, would put a time limit on computers . . . forever. A race will then be on, who will generate the highest semi-prime. The few computers generating the encryption will be limited on how large of a semi-prime they can generate. The cracking computers will be limited by the exact same except they will be many more times in number.

This reminds me of a thought experiment I heard recently called Roko’s Basilisk where the idea was so dangerous that it was a hazard to even think about it. It was even deleted due to the anguish it created to some.

This cat has likely already been out of the bag, surely I am not the first to think of this. Like Roko’s Basilisk, the thought of it makes it more likely to bring it to reality which is why it was so terrifying to those who were told it.

So, your security online right now is based on the difficulty of this semi-prime problem. It’s a mirage, literally. I would go so far to say that the internet exists only because of this problem and the moment it is no longer a problem of magnitude, the internet ceases.

What if I’m right then? My obsession finds a shortcut to the solution. It’s my Basilisk in that when I learned of this problem it wormed it’s way into my psyche and I will likely never stop thinking about it. In the most basic form my thinking about it, will invoke the solution . . . eventually, somewhere.

I believe semi-primes do not have many factors, but they have features. Buried deep in number theory, next to that theorem that guy hasn’t solved yet, or next to that algorithm that computer scientists can’t quite calculate fully yet. There will be a pattern.

Mandelbrot’s set had a pattern that took a dot matrix printer to see, so will this problem.

If you think of the space race, you can envision an infinity race. Two groups reaching for infinity. My only interest in the war would be the notoriety of firing the first shot.



David Smith

Disgruntled uneducated intellectual and philosopher unimpressed with the current paradigm. A non-authoritative authority on the status quo & it’s inadequacies.