Terry Tao is one of the world's greatest mathematicians and many peoples candidate for smartest man in the world. Some excerpts:
One of the world's greatest minds is playing with a toy pony. He presses a plastic stethoscope into the soft toy's body, feigns a pony cough. "Is he sick or is he well?" he asks. "You don't know? Want a second opinion?"
Terence Tao - Terry, as he's mostly known - is sitting on a leather sofa in his Los Angeles living room, thin, bare-footed and bespectacled, talking to his three-year-old daughter, Madeleine, just home from a birthday party. It's hard to be intimidated by a man playing with a toy pony.
Tao was a famous prodigy.
When he was nine, Tao commenced part-time studies in mathematics at Flinders University. By the time he was 16, he'd finished his science degree. He got his masters when he was 17 and his PhD at Princeton University at 20.
His two brothers, one of whom is autistic, are also prodigiously accomplished.
Things could have been different for Terry Tao. He might have used his brain with evil intent. "Okay, I don't think it would count as evil, but a lot of my PhDs, they go into the finance industry, Wall Street, and typically they earn ridiculous salaries. In fact, I don't even know exactly how much they earn. It's probably good for my health not to know." He is now absent-mindedly stroking the family's fluffy tortoiseshell cat, which has jumped onto his lap. Tao himself was once head-hunted by a hedge fund. "But I don't know, these things never sort of really interested me."
He's done some consultancy work for the US intelligence bureau, the National Security Agency. "It's not as glamorous as it sounds. You spend a year going through security clearance and then you work on some problems which you don't know where they came from, they don't tell you that much," he says, and then corrects himself. "No, it's interesting work; it's kind of fun actually..."