Category Archives: Computer Science and Optimization

The Quantum Fault-Tolerance Debate Updates

In a couple of days, we will resume the debate between Aram Harrow and me regarding the possibility of universal quantum computers and quantum fault tolerance. The debate takes place over GLL (Godel’s Lost Letter and P=NP) blog.

The Debate

Where were we?

My initial post “Perpetual Motion of The 21st Century?” presented my conjectures regarding how noisy quantum computers and noisy quantum evolutions really behave.

Aram’s first post was entitled “Flying Machines of the 21st Century?” It mainly dealt with the question “How is it possible that quantum fault-tolerance is impossible (or really really hard) while classical fault tolerance is possible (and quite easy). Aram claimed that my conjectures, if true, exclude also classical computers.

Aram’s second post entitled “Nature does not conspire” dealt mainly with correlated errors. Aram claimed that it is unreasonable to assume strong correlation of errors as my conjectures imply and that the conjectured relation between the signal and noise is in tension with linearity of quantum mechanics.

Aram’s third  post “The Quantum super-PAC”  raised two interesting thought-experiments and discussed also intermediate models.

Each post ended with a small rejoinder, and included a short description of the ealier discussion.  The discussion was quite extensive and very interesting.

What’s next

Aram and Steve Flammia wrote an interesting manuscript with appealing counterexamples to my Conjecture C. Our next planned post (it now has appeared) will discuss this matter.

Next, I will conclude with a post discussing Aram’s two main points from his first and second posts and some related issues which I find important.

These posts are mostly written but since Aram was busy with pressing deadlines we waited several weeks before posting them. I also enjoyed the break, as the extensive discussion period was quite tiring.

A very short introduction to my position/approach

1) The crux of matter is noise

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Greg Kuperberg: It is in NP to Tell if a Knot is Knotted! (under GRH!)

Wolfgang Haken found an algorithm to tell if a knot is trivial, and, more generally with Hemion, if two knots are equivalent.

Joel Hass, Jeff Lagarias and Nick Pippinger proved in 1999 that telling that a knot is unknotted is in NP. This is a major result!

An outstanding problem for many years was to determine if telling that a knot is unknotted is in coNP or equivalently if telling that a knot is nontrivial is in NP as well. A few month ago Greg Kuperberg proved it under GRH (the generalized Riemann hypothesis)! Amazing! Kuperberg ingenious short proof is based on a recent important knot-theoretic result by Kronheimer and Mrowka combined with computational complexity result by Koiran (discussed in the section “from Primes to Complexity”over this GLL’s post).

There were several results in knot theory in recent years that gradually showed that several invariants (related, generally speaking, to Jones polynomials but more detailed, e.g., Khovanov homology,) are enough to tell if a knot is trivial. I am not so sure about how this fascinating story goes.

An earlier, different,  approach (via the Thurston norm) from 2002 to showing that verifying that a knot is trivial is in coNP was by Ian Agol.   

It is very interesting if the dependence on GRH can be removed. Of course, a major problem is if telling if a knot is trivial is in P. Showing that the problem is in BQP will also be great.

Eralier,  in a SODA 2005 article, Hara, Tani, and Yamamoto proved  that unknotting is in AM \cap coAM. As mentioned in the comments the argument was incomplete. (One thing I learned from Greg’s preprint is that there is a preprint by Chad Musick who is describing a polynomial-time algorithm for testing if a knot is trivial. His work is based on a knot-invariant called “the crumble,” and its status is unclear at present.)

I am not sure what is the complexity for telling if two knots are equivalent. Haken and Hemion proved that it is decidable. Telling if a knot is trivial feels a little like PRIMALITY while telling two knots apart feels a little like FACTORING. Here is a survey article by Joel Hass on the computability and complexity of knots and 3-manifolds equivalence. It looks that the algorithmic theory of knots is related to both coltures of 3-dim topology, the one related to structural results, combinatorial group theory, geometrization etc, and the other related to invariants and physics, and this is nice. See also the post over GLL entitled “What makes a knot knotty.”

And here is Greg’s description of his ingenious proof. (It is not as easy as the description suggests.) Reading Greg’s short page paper is  recommended.

Updates, Boolean Functions Conference, and a Surprising Application to Polytope Theory

The Debate continues

The debate between Aram Harrow and me on Godel Lost letter and P=NP (GLL) regarding quantum fault tolerance continues. The first post entitled Perpetual  motions of the 21th century featured mainly my work, with a short response by Aram. Aram posted two of his three rebuttal posts which included also short rejoiners by me. Aram’s first post entitled Flying machines of the 21th century dealt with the question “How can it be that quantum error correction is impossible while classical error correction is possible.” Aram’s  second post entitled Nature does not conspire deals with the issue of malicious correlated errors.  A third post by Aram is coming and  the discussion is quite interesting. Stay tuned. In between our posts GLL had several other related posts like Is this a quantum computer? on how to tell that you really have a genuine quantum computer , and Quantum ground day that summarized the comments to the first post.

Virgin Island Boolean Functions

In the beginning of February I spend a week in a great symposium on Analysis of Boolean Functions, one among several conferences supported  by the Simons foundation, that took place at St. John of the Virgin Islands.

Irit Dinur and me

Ryan O’Donnell who along with Elchanan Mossel and Krzysztof Oleszkiewicz (the team of “majority is stablest” theorem) organized the meeting, live blogged about it on his blog. There are also planned scribes of the lectures and videos. I posed the following problem (which arose naturally from works presented in the meeting): What can be said about circuits with n inputs representing n Gaussian random variables, and gates of the form: linear functions, max and min.

A surprising application of a theorem on convex polytopes.

(Told to me by Moritz Schmitt and Gunter Ziegler)

A theorem I proved with Peter Kleinschmidt and Gunter Meisinger asserts that every rational polytope of dimension d>8 contains a 3-face with at most 78 vertices or 78 facets. (A later theorem of Karu shows that our proof applies to all polytopes.) You would not expect to find a real life application for such a theorem. But a surprising application has just been given.

Before talking about the application let me say a few more words about the theorem. The point is that there is a finite list of 3-polytopes so that every polytope of a large enough dimension (as it turns out, eight or more) has a 3-face in the list. It is conjectured that a similar theorem holds for k-faces, and  it is also conjectured that if the dimension is sufficiently high you can reduce the list to two polytopes: the simplex and the cube. These conjectures are still open. (See this post  for related open problems about polytopes.) For k=2, it follows from Euler’s theorem that every three-dimensional polytope contains a face which is a triangle, quadrangle, or pentagon, and in dimension five and up, every polytope has a 2-face which is a triangle or a rectangle.

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A Discussion and a Debate

Heavier than air flight of the 21 century?

The very first post on this blog entitled “Combinatorics, Mathematics, Academics, Polemics, …” asked the question “Are mathematical debates possible?” We also had posts devoted to debates and to controversies.

A few days ago, the first post in a discussion between Aram Harrow, a brilliant computer scientists and quantum information researcher (and a decorated debator), and myself on quantum error correction was launched in Dick Lipton and Ken Regan’s big-league blog, Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP.

The central question we would like to discuss is:

Are universal quantum computers based on quantum error correction possible.

In preparation for the public posts, Ken, Aram, Dick, and me are having very fruitful and interesting email discussion on this and related matters, and also the post itself have already led to very interesting comments. Ken is doing marvels in editing what we write.

Dick opened the post by talking on perpetual motion machines which is ingenious because it challenges both sides of the discussion. Perpetual motion turned out to be impossible: will quantum computers enjoy the same fate? On the other hand (and closer to the issue at hand), an argument against quantum mechanics based on the impossibility of perpetual motion by no other than Einstein turned out to be false, are skeptical ideas to quantum computers just as bogus? (The answer could be yes to both questions.) Some people claimed that heavier-than-air flight might is a better analogy. Sure, perhaps it is better.

But, of course, analogies with many human endeavors can be made, and for these endeavors, some went one way, and some went the other way, and for some we don’t know.

Although this event is declared as a debate, I would like to think about it as a discussion. In the time scale of such a discussion what we can hope for is to better understand each other positions, and, not less important, to better understand our own positions.  (Maybe I will comment here about some meta aspects of this developing discussion/debate.)

A real debate

A real emerging debate is if we (scientists) should boycott Elsevier. I tend to be against such an action, and especially against including refereeing papers for journals published by Elsevier as part of the boycott. I liked, generally speaking,  Gowers’s critical post on Elsevier, but the winds of war and associated rhetoric are not to my liking.  The universities are quite powerful, and they deal, negotiate and struggle with scientific publishers, and other similar bodies, on a regular  basis. I tend to think that the community of scientists should not be part of such struggles and that such involvement will harm the community and science. This is a real debate! But it looks almost over.  Many scientists joined the boycott and not many opposing opinions were made. It looks that we will have a little war and see some action. Exciting, as ever.

Fractional Sylvester-Gallai

Avi Wigderson was in town and gave a beautiful talk about an extension of Sylvester-Gallai theorem. Here is a link to the paper: Rank bounds for design matrices with applications to combinatorial geometry and locally correctable codes by Boaz Barak, Zeev Dvir, Avi Wigderson, and Amir Yehudayoff.


The Sylvester-Gallai Theorem:  Let X be a finite set of n points in an eulidean space such that for every two distinct points x,y \in X the line through x and y contains a third point z \in X. Then all points in X are contained in a line. 

I heard about this result when I took Benjy Weiss’s mathematics course for high-school students in 1970/1. a  The Sylvester-Gallai theorem was the last question marked with (*) in the first week’s homework. In one of the next meetings Benjy listened carefully to our ideas on how to prove it and then explained to us why our attempts of proving it are doomed to fail: What we tried to do only relied on the very basic incidence axioms of Euclidean geometry but the Sylvester-Gallai theorem does not hold for finite projective planes. (Sylvester conjectured the result in 1893. The first proof was given by Mechior in 1940 and Gallai proved it in 1945.)

My MO question

Befor describing the new results let me mention my third ever MathOverflow question that was about potential extensions of the G-S theorem. The question was roughly this:

Suppose that V is an r dimensional variety embedded into n space so that if the intersection of every j-dimensional subspace with V is full dimensional then this intersection  is “complicated”. Then n cannot be too large.

I will not reproduce the full question here but only a memorable remark made by Greg Kuperberg:

If you claimed that Gil is short for Gilvester (which is a real first name although rare), then you could say that any of your results is the “Gilvester Kalai theorem”. – Greg Kuperberg Nov 24 2009 at 5:13

The result by Barak, Dvir, Wigderson and Yehudayoff

Theorem:  Let X be a finite set of n points in an Euclidean space such that for every point x \in X the number of y, y\in X,y \ne x such that the line through x and y contains another point of X is at least \delta (n-1). Then

\dim (Aff(X))\le 13/\delta^2

Some remarks:

1) The proof: The first ingredient of the proof is a translation of the theorem into a question about ranks of matrices with a certain combinatorial structure. The next thing is to observe is that when the non zero entries of the matrix are 1’s the claim is simple. The second surprising ingredient of the proof is to use scaling in order to “tame” the entries of the matrix.

2)  The context – locally correctable codes:  A q-query locally correctable (q,\delta)-code over a field F is a subspace of F^n so that, given any element \tilde y that disagrees with some y \in C in at most \delta n positions and an index i, 1 \le i \le n we can recover y_i with probability 3/4 by reading at most q coordinates of \tilde y.  The theorem stated above imply that, for two queries,  over the real numbers (and also over the complex numbers), such codes do not exist when n is large. Another context where the result is of interest is the hot area of sum product theorems and related questions in the geometry of incidences.

3) Some open problems: Is there a more detailed structure theorem for configurations of points satisfying the condition of the theorem? Can the result be improved to \dim (Aff(X))=O(1/\delta )? Can a similar result be proved on locally correctable codes with more than two queries? This also translates into an interesting Sylvester-Gallai type question but it will require, Avi said, new ideas.

Ryan O’Donnell: Analysis of Boolean Function

Ryan O’Donnell has begun writing a book about Fourier analysis of Boolean functions and  he serializes it on a blog entiled Analysis of Boolean Function.  New sections appear on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Besides covering the basic theory, Ryan intends to describe applications in theoretical computer science and other areas of mathematics, including combinatorics, probability, social choice, and geometry.

Beside being a great place to learn this interesting material, actively participating in Ryan’s blog can make you a hero! Don’t miss this opportunity.

Each chapter of Ryan’s book ends with a “highlight” illustrating the use of Boolean analysis in problems where you might not necessarily expect it. In a post over Computational Complexity Ryan described some of these highlights in order to give a flavor of the contents:

  • Testing linearity (the Blum-Luby-Rubinfeld Theorem)
  • Arrow’s Theorem from Social Choice (and Kalai’s “approximate” version)
  • The Goldreich-Levin Algorithm from cryptography
  • Constant-depth circuits (Linial-Mansour-Nisan’s work)
  • Noise sensitivity of threshold functions (Peres’s Theorem)
  • Pseudorandomness for F_2-polynomials (Viola’s Theorem)
  • NP-hardness of approximately solving linear systems (Hastad’s Theorem)
  • Randomized query complexity of monotone graph properties
  • The (almost-)Polynomial Freiman-Ruzsa Theorem (i.e., Sanders’s Theorem)
  • The Kahn-Kalai-Linial Theorem on influences
  • The Gaussian Isoperimetric Inequality (Bobkov’s proof)
  • Sharp threshold phenomena (Friedgut and Bourgain’s theorems)
  • Majority Is Stablest Theorem
  • Unique Games-hardness from SDP gaps (work of Raghavendra and others)

Cup 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 cup set problem (three terms arithmetic progressions in (Z/3Z)^n):

The cup 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 cup 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 cup 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 cup set conjecture.

Theorem: The strong cup 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.