Cap Sets, Sunflowers, and Matrix Multiplication

This post follows a recent paper On sunflowers  and matrix multiplication by Noga Alon, Amir Spilka, and Christopher Umens (ASU11) which rely on an earlier paper Group-theoretic algorithms for matrix multiplication, by Henry Cohn, Robert Kleinberg, Balasz Szegedy, and Christopher Umans (CKSU05), and refers also to a paper by Don Coppersmith and Shmuel Winograd (CW90).

Three famous problems

The Erdos-Rado sunflower conjecture

The Erdos-Rado sunflower (Delta system) theorem and conjecture was already menioned in this post on extremal set theory.

A sunflower (a.k.a. Delta-system) of size $r$ is a family of sets $A_1, A_2, \dots, A_r$ such that every element that belongs to more than oneofthe sets belongs to all of them. A basic and simple result of Erdos and Rado asserts that

Erdos-Rado sunflower theorem: There is a function $f(k,r)$ so that every family $\cal F$ of $k$-sets with more than $f(k,r)$ members contains a sunflower of size $r$.

One of the most famous open problems in extremal combinatorics is:

The Erdos-Rado conjecture: Prove that $f(k,r) \le c_r^k$.

Here, $c_r$ is a constant depending on $r$. This is most interesting already for $r=3$.

Three term arithmetic progressions

The cap set problem (three terms arithmetic progressions in $(Z/3Z)^n$):

The cap set problem was also discussed here quite extensively. (See, e.g. this post.)

Let $\Gamma=$$\{0,1,2\}^n$. The cap set problem  asks for the maximum number of elements in a subset of $\Gamma$ which contains no arithmetic progression of size three or, alternatively, no three vectors that sum up to 0(modulo 3). (Such a set is called a cap set.) If $A$ is a cap set of maximum size we can ask how the function $h(n)=3^n/|A|$ behaves. Roy Meshulam proved, using Roth’s argument, that $h(n) \ge n$. Edell found an example of a cap set of size $2.2^n$. So $h(n) \le (3/2.2)^n$.  The gap is exponential.

The strong cap set conjecture: $h(n) \ge (1+\epsilon)^n$ for some $\epsilon >0$.

Of course, the cap set problem is closely related to

Erdos-Turan problem (for $r=3$): What is the larget size $r_3(n)$ of a subest of {1,2,…,n} without 3-term arithmetic progression?

Matrix multiplications

Let ω be the smallest real number so that there is an algorithm for multiplying  two $n \times n$ matrices which requires $O(n^\omega )$ arithmetic operations.

The ω=2 conjecture: ω=2.

A very recent breakthrough by Virginia Vassilevska Williams (independently) following an earlier breakthrough by Andrew Stothers improved the Coppersmith-Winograd algorithm which gave ω =2.376, to 2.374 and 2.373 respectively. (See the discussions over Lipton’s blog (1,2), Shtetl optimized, and Computational Complexity.)

It turns out that these three conjectures are related. (The connection of matrix multiplication and the Erdos-Turan problem is fairly old, but I am not sure what an even drastic improvment of Behrends’s lower bound would say about $\omega$.)

Three combinatorial conjectures that imply ω=2.

Remarkably, an affarmative answer for the ω=2 conjecture would folow from each one of three combinatorial conjectures. One conjecture goes back to CW90 and two were described in CKSU05. I will not present the precise formulations in order to encourage the readers to look at the original papers. (Maybe I will add the formulations later.)

The no disjoint equivoluminous subsets conjecture (CW90).

The Strong UPS conjecture (CKSU05).

Theorem: Conjecture CW90 implies the strong UPS conjecture.

CKSU’s two-family conjecture (CKSU05).

Relations between these problems

Here are some results taken from ASU11 about the relations between these combinatorial questions. The first result goes back to Erdos and Szemeredi.

The weak sunflower conjecture: A family $\cal F$ of subsets of {1,2,…,n}  with no sunflower of size 3 can have at most $(2-\epsilon)^n$ sets.

The following results are not difficult.

Theorem: The strong sunflower conjecture implies the weak sunflower conjecture.

Theorem: The strong cap set conjecture also implies the weak sunflower conjecture.

Theorem: The weak sunflower conjecture implies that the CW90 conjecture is false.

It follows that CW90 conjecture is in conflict both with the Erdos Rado sunflower conjecture and with the strong cap set conjecture.

Theorem: The strong cap set conjecture implies that the strong UPS conjecture is false.

While two family theorems are quite popular in extremal combinatorics (see this post and this one), CKSU’s two family conjecture is still rather isolated from other combinatorics.

What to believe?

This is a nice topic for discussion.

This entry was posted in Combinatorics, Computer Science and Optimization, Open problems and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Cap Sets, Sunflowers, and Matrix Multiplication

1. M. M. M. says:

[…] =2.376, to 2.374 and 2.373 respectively. (See the discussions over Lipton’s blog (1,2), Shtetl optimized, and Computational […]

2. I think you mean “cap sets” when you say “cup sets”. In general an affine cap in $\mathbb{F}_q^n$ (or rather $AG(n, q)$) is a collection of points no three of which are collinear. When $q = 3$, three points $x_1, x_2, x_3$ are collinear iff $x_1 – x_2 = x_2 – x_3$, which is equivalent to $x_1 + x_2 + x_3 = 0$.

• Gil Kalai says:

Hmm, you are absolutely right! (I used “cap” and “cup” completely at random; corrected now)

3. Andy says:

Hi Gil, do you think you could make a blog post about Deza’s theorem? That if we have m sets of size k, and the intersection of every 2 has the same size, and if m>k^2-k+1, then the sets form a sunflower? I think it’s a pretty theorem, and it’s hard to find a proof in english online 😦