Category Archives: Controversies and debates

The Quantum Debate is Over! (and other Updates)

Quid est noster computationis mundus?

Nine months after is started, (much longer than expected,) and after eight posts on GLL, (much more than planned,)  and almost a thousand comments of overall good quality,   from quite a few participants, my scientific debate with Aram Harrow regarding quantum fault tolerance is essentially over. Some good food for thought, I hope. As always, there is more to be said on the matter itself, on the debate, and on other”meta” matters, but it is also useful to put it now in the background for a while, to continue to think about quantum fault tolerance in the slow pace and solitude, as I am used to, and also to move on in other fronts, which were perhaps neglected a little.

Here are the links to the eight posts: My initial post “Perpetual Motion of The 21st Century?” was followed by three posts by Aram. The first “Flying Machines of the 21st Century?” the second “Nature does not conspire” and the third “The Quantum super-PAC.” We had then two additional posts “Quantum refutations and reproofs” and “Can you hear the shape of a quantum computer?.” Finally we had  two conclusion posts: “Quantum repetition” and “Quantum supremacy or quantum control?

EDP 22-27

We had six new posts on the Erdos Discrepancy Problem over Gowers’s blog (Here is the link to the last one EDP27). Tim contributed a large number of comments and it was interesting to follow his line of thought.  Other participants also contributed a few comments. One nice surprise for me was that the behavior of the hereditary discrepancy for homogeneous arithmetic progression in {1,2,…,n} was  found by Alexander Nikolov and  Kunal Talwar. See this post From discrepancy to privacy and back and the paper. Noga Alon and I showed that it is {\tilde{\Omega}(\sqrt{\log n})} and at most {n^{O(\frac{1}{\log\log n})}}, and to my surprise Alexander and Kunal showed that the upper bound is the correct behavior. The argument relies on connection with differential privacy.

Möbius randomness and computation

After the AC^0-prime number theorem was proved by Ben Green, and the Mobius randomness of all Walsh functions and monotone Boolean function was proved by Jean Bourgain, (See this MO question for details) the next logical step are low degree polynomials over Z/2Z . (The Walsh functions are degree 1 polynomials.) The simplest case offered to me by Bourgain is the case of the Rudin-Shapiro sequence. (But for an ACC(2) result via Razborov-Smolensky theorem we will need to go all the way to polynomial of degree polylog.) I asked it over MathOverflaw. After three months of no activity I offered a bounty of 300 of my own MO-reputations. Subsequently, Terry Tao and Ben Green discussed some avenues and eventually Tao solved the problem (and earned the 300 reputation points). Here is a very recent post on Möbius randomness on Terry Tao’s blog.

Influences on large sets

In my post Nati’s Influence I mentioned two old conjectures (Conjecture 1 dues to Benny Chor and Conjecture 2) about influence of large sets on Boolean functions. During Jeff Kahn’s visit to Israel we managed to disprove them both. The disproof is inspired by an old construction of Ajtai and Linial.

Tel Aviv, New Haven, Jerusalem

Last year we lived for a year in Tel Aviv which was a wonderful experience: especially walking on the beach every day and feeling the different atmosphere of the city. It is so different from my Jerusalem and still the people speak fluent Hebrew. I am now in New Haven. It is getting cold and the fall colors are getting beautiful. And it also feels at home after all these years. And next week I return to my difficult and beautiful  (and beloved) Jerusalem.

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Gina Says Part two

Download the second part of my book “Gina Says.”

Link to the post with the first part.

 

  

 “Gina Says,”

Adventures in the

Blogosphere String War

selected and edited by Gil Kalai

 

Praise for “Gina Says” 

 

After having coffee  at the n-category cafe,  Gina moved to  Clliford Johnson’s blog “Asymptotia” where she mainly discussed Lee Smolin’s book “The Trouble with Physics.”

Among the highlights:  Too good to be true (Ch 17); Dyscalculia and Chomskian linguistics (Ch 19); Baker’s fifteen objections to “The Trouble with Physics” (Ch. 25); Maldacena (Ch. 28);  High risks endeavors for the young (Ch 31);How to treat fantastic claims by great people (Ch. 33); Shocking revelations (Ch. 38); How to debate beauty (Ch 41.)

Some little chapters appeared also as posts: Continue reading

Alarming Developments In Tel Aviv University

Update (July 24): A detailed new article in Hebrew and English.

Dr. Leora Meridor, who replaced  Dov Lautman in March (just four months ago)  as chair of TAU’s executive council is quoted saying: ” I’d give him (Zvi Galil) a list of things that had to be done, and nothing would happen.” and “In such a situation, you can’t just keep on doing what was done before, only to a lesser extent. You have to make decisions: what should be severed with one sharp blow, and what should be strengthened. This is the ABC of management.”

Again, I should repeat that even direct quotes taken from a newspaper are not always accurate. If accurate,  a management style of executive counsil chairperson who gives the president of the university  a “to do list, ” expects him to “close units with one sharp knife blow” (here I translate from the Hebrew version) and fires him within three month at office, is highly unorthodox.    

 

Look at these articles:

(English)   http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1096958.html

(Hebrew) http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1096752.html

A follow-up article in Hebrew:

(Hebrew) http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1097204.html

(I did not find the English version of the second article.)

The articles discuss the recent resignation of Tel Aviv University’s president Zvi Galil. They mention changes in the institution’s constitution which reduced the authority of academic staff in the university administration in favor of “representatives of the public,” primarily businesspeople. The new provisions, claim the articles, reduce the number of votes needed to cut short the term of the university president.

Disclaimer: Not everything written in a newspaper is correct.

Remark: The issues which are debated in Israel regarding governance of the universities and related matters are similar in nature to trends in various other places. Continue reading

Chess can be a Game of Luck

chess

Can chess be a game of luck?

Let us consider the following two scenarios:

A) We have a chess tournament where each of forty chess players pay 50 dollars entrance fee and the winner takes the prize which is 80% of the the total entrance fees.

 B)  We have a chess tournament where each of forty chess players pay 20,000 dollars entrance fee and the winner takes the prize which is 80% of the the total entrance fees.

Before dealing with these two rather realistic scenarios let us consider the following more hypothetical situations.

C) Suppose that chess players have a quality measure that allows us to determine the probability that any one player will beat the other. Two players play and bet. The strong player bets 10 dollars  and the waek player bets according to the probability he will win. (So the expected gain of both player is zero.)

D)  Suppose again that chess players have a quality measure that allows us to determine the probability that any one players will beat the other. Two players play and bet. The strong player bets 100,000 dollars and the weak player bets according to the probability he will wins. (Again, the expected gain of both players is zero.)

When we analyze scenarios C and D the first question to ask is “What is the game?” In my opinion we need to consider the entire setting, so the “game” consists of both the chess itself and the betting around it. In cases C and D the betting aspects of the game are completely separated from the chess itself. We can suppose that the higher the stakes are, the higher the ingredient of luck of the combined game. It is reasonable to assume that version C) is mainly a game of skill and version D) is mainly a game of luck.

Now what about the following scenarios: 

E) Two players play chess and bet 5 dollars.chessnyc

Here the main ingredient is skill; the bet only adds a little spice to the game.

F) Two players play chess and bet 100,000 dollars. 

 Well, to the extent that such a game takes place at all, I would expect that the luck factor will be dominant. (Note that scenario F is not equivalent to the scenario where two players play, the winner gets 300,000 dollars and the loser gets 100,000 dollars.)

Let us go back to the original scenarios A) and B). Here too, I would consider the ingredients of luck and skill to be strongly dependant on the stakes. The setting of scenario A) can be quite compatible with a game of skill where the prizes give some extra incentives to participants (and rewards for the organizers), while in scenario B) it stands to reason that the luck/gambling factor will be dominant.  

One critique against my opinion is: What about tennis tournaments where professional tennis players are playing on large amounts of prize money? Are professional tennis tournaments  games of luck? There is one major difference between this example and examples A and B above. In tennis tournaments there are very large prizes but the expected gain for a player is positive, all (or at least most) players can make a living by participating. This changes entirely the incentives. This is also the case for various high level professional chess tournaments.

For mathematicians there are a few things that sound strange in this analysis. The luck ingredient is not invariant under multiplying the stakes by a constant, and it is not invariant under giving (or taking) a fixed sum of money to the participants before the game starts. However, these aspects are crucial when we try to analyze the incentives and motives of players and, in my opinion,  it is a mistake to ignore them.   

So my answer is: yes, chess can be a game of luck.

Now, what about poker? Continue reading