Fractals are a fascinating toy, one can easily spend an afternoon lost in Mandelbrot or Julia sets. Mathematicians were aware of fractals as early as the 1700s but it wasn’t until we had computers to do the calculations that we really discovered fractals.
Benoit B. Mandelbrot doing research at IBM was revisiting Gaston Julia’s work with fractals (1917) when he discovered the Mandelbrot set. Fractals are simple equations that are recursively computed. These simple equations create complex shapes.
The Mandelbrot function is z = z^2 + c. z and c are complex numbers, z is set to zero, c is the position on the x ( x, yi ) plane. You recursively compute this function to obtain the Mandelbrot fractal. Black is for the numbers that do not escape to infinity, the other colors represent how many loops it takes to escape.
Fractals have found some use in artificial intelligence. In the world of computer games, fractals create plant life, clouds, mountains and other scenery that would not be possible in such detail. Parkinson’s patients are diagnosed by their gait. In 2004 a sensor was developed that measures the patient’s gait, and analyzes the gait using fractals. 2002 fractals were put to use to help predict natural disasters and better model hurricanes. More recently fractal patterns have been found in solar wind. It is hoped this information will allow us to better predict solar storms.
Fractals have been found in Jackson Pollacks paintings and are being used to try to identify real paintings from fakes. They are also being used in image compression. A more fun way to play with fractals is to use them to predict the stock and commodity markets.