Scott Aaronson: Quantum Computational Supremacy and Its Applications

Dr. Scott Aaronson spoke to MSRI’s Math Lovers Forum in October 2020.

Quantum Computational Supremacy and Its Applications

Last fall, a team at Google announced the first-ever demonstration of “quantum computational supremacy” — that is, a clear quantum speedup over a classical computer for some task — using a 53-qubit programmable superconducting chip called Sycamore. Google’s accomplishment drew on a decade of research in my field of quantum complexity theory. This talk discusses questions like: what exactly was the (contrived) problem that Sycamore solved? How does one verify the outputs using a classical computer? And how confident are we that the problem is classically hard — especially in light of subsequent counterclaims by IBM and others? Aaronson ends with a possible application that he’s been developing for Google’s experiment: namely, the generation of trusted public random bits, for use (for example) in cryptocurrencies.

Scott AaronsonScott Aaronson is David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin and director of its Quantum Information Center. He received his bachelor’s from Cornell University and his PhD from UC Berkeley. Before coming to UT Austin, he spent nine years as a professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. Aaronson’s research in theoretical computer science has focused mainly on the capabilities and limits of quantum computers.

His first book, “Quantum Computing Since Democritus”, was published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press. He received the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award, the United States PECASE Award, the Vannevar Bush Fellowship, the Tomassoni-Chisesi Prize in Physics, and MIT’s Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching.

David Eisenbud: How to Factorize (Almost) Everything / Jack McCauley

Dr. David Eisenbud and Jack McCauley spoke to MSRI’s Math Lovers Forum in November 2019.

How to Factorize (Almost) Everything

MSRI director and UC Berkeley Professor of Mathematics David Eisenbud recalls that most of us learn in high-school how to factor polynomials: for example, x2-y2 = (x+y)(x-y), and x2+2xy+y2 = (x+y)2. Some of us also learn that factoring y2-x3 is impossible.  However, it is a long tradition in mathematics that one can solve more problems if one widens one’s point of view. David will show how such a widening allows one to factor nearly any. He’ll also share an open problem in the area that touches on the very nature of complexity.

Math Lovers Forum at MSRI: David Eisenbud on “How to Factorize (Almost) Everything” from MSRI  on Vimeo.

David Eisenbud served as Director of MSRI from 1997 to 2007, and began a new term in 2013. He received his PhD in mathematics in 1970 at the University of Chicago under Saunders MacLane and Chris Robson, and was on the faculty at Brandeis University before coming to Berkeley, where he became Professor of Mathematics in 1997. He served from 2009 to 2011 as Director for Mathematics and the Physical Sciences at the Simons Foundation, and is currently on the Board of Directors of the Foundation. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Bonn, and Paris. Eisenbud’s mathematical interests range widely over commutative and non-commutative algebra, algebraic geometry, topology, and computer methods.

Eisenbud is Chair of the Editorial Board of the Algebra and Number Theory journal, which he helped found in 2006, and serves on the Board of the Journal of Software for Algebra and Geometry, as well as Springer-Verlag’s book series Algorithms and Computation in Mathematics.

Eisenbud was President of the American Mathematical Society from 2003 to 2005. He is a Director of Math for America, a foundation devoted to improving mathematics teaching. He has been a member of the Board of Mathematical Sciences and their Applications of the National Research Council, and is a member of the U.S. National Committee of the International Mathematical Union. In 2006, Eisenbud was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jack McCauley

Jack McCauley spoke to MSRI’s Math Lovers Forum ( in November 2019. In this video recording, engineer, inventor, and philanthropist Jack McCauley discusses his career, as well as a recent creation of his: a handmade calculator capable of doing complex sums, and some of the history behind the original design from the 16th century and its creator.

Math Lovers Forum at MSRI: Jack McCauley from MSRI on Vimeo.

Engineer, inventor, and philanthropist Jack McCauley is a University of California, Berkeley Alumnus (EECS ’86); He is a co-founder of Oculus VR and the chief engineer of the Guitar Hero video game series.

Stuart Bale: University of California, Berkeley

The Sun’s “Dark Energy” Problem

Dr. Stuart Bale spoke to MSRI’s Math Lovers Forum in May 2019. In this video recording, Dr. Bale explains some of what we’ve learned about the sun’s structure and gives an overview of NASA’s ongoing Parker Solar Probe mission, including some exciting new results.

Math Lovers Forum at MSRI: Stuart Bale on “The Sun’s ‘Dark Energy’ Problem” from MSRI on Vimeo.

Stuart Bale is a University of California, Berkeley professor of physics, former director of the campus’s Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) and one of four principal investigators for the instruments aboard the Parker Solar Probe. In addition, his SSL research group participated in NASA’s STEREO mission studying the generation and evolution of Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) phenomena. Bale’s main research is focused on developing experiments to understand the role of plasma dynamics and magnetic fields in the large-scale evolution of astrophysical systems.

Moon Duchin: Tufts University

Random Walks and Gerrymandering

Markov chain Monte Carlo, or MCMC, is a powerful family of search algorithms that has applications all over science and engineering.  I’ll make the case that it gives us the material for a major breakthrough in the study of redistricting:  how do you decide when a map has been gerrymandered?

Math Lovers Forum at MSRI: Moon Duchin on “Random Walks and Gerrymandering” from MSRI on Vimeo.

DuchinMoon Duchin is an Associate Professor of mathematics at Tufts University and serves as director of Tufts’ interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Society program. Her mathematical research is in geometric group theory, low-dimensional topology, and dynamics. She is also one of the leaders of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, a Tisch College-supported project that focuses mathematical attention on issues of electoral redistricting.

Duchin’s research looks at the metric geometry of groups and surfaces, often by zooming out to the large scale picture. Lately she has focused on geometric counting problems, in the vein of the classic Gauss circle problem, which asks how many integer points in the plane are contained in a disk of radius r. Her graduate training was in low-dimensional topology and ergodic theory, focusing on an area called Teichmüller theory, where the object of interest is a parameter space for geometric structures on surfaces.

Duchin has also worked and lectured on issues in the history, philosophy, and cultural studies of math and science, such as the role of intuition and the nature and impact of ideas about genius. She is involved in a range of educational projects in mathematics: she is a veteran visitor at the Canada/USA Mathcamp for talented high school students; has worked with middle school teachers in Chicago Public Schools, developed inquiry-based coursework for future elementary school teachers at the University of Michigan, and briefly partnered with the Poincaré Institute for Mathematics Education at Tufts.

Krzysztof Burdzy: University of Washington, Seattle

The least interesting philosophical theory of probability ever (but at least it makes sense)

I will present a new way to look at the scientific laws of probability. I will argue that:
(i) The existing philosophy of probability is a complete intellectual failure.
(ii) The two most popular philosophical theories of probability formalize
only those beliefs that were never disputed.
(iii) The non-formalized parts of probability are swept under the rug of absurdities.
(iv) Even the justifications of the non-controversial beliefs are nonsensical.
You can watch the event video below.

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Event Blog: A Magical Journey into Imagination, Art, Math and Whimsy!

blog1On November 19, 2017, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) held a private event in Sonoma County for members of the Museion Society in partnership with Llisa Eames Demetrios, granddaughter of renowned designers Charles and Ray Eames, and her husband Mark Burstein, a lifelong, second-generation collector, president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and editor or introducer of, or contributor to fourteen books about Carroll, including The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (W. W. Norton, 2015) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: 150th Anniversary Edition Illustrated by Salvador Dalí (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Friend of MSRI and Math Lovers Forum sponsor Ashok Vaish was in attendance at the event and shares the following reflections on the experience on his personal blog, reposted below.

Continue reading “Event Blog: A Magical Journey into Imagination, Art, Math and Whimsy!”

Alessandro Chiesa: University of California, Berkeley

Bitcoin, Its Privacy Problem and How to Fix It

Dr. Alessandro Chiesa will discuss the bitcoin privacy problem and how to fix it. He will introduce the main algorithmic ideas behind Bitcoin, the first decentralized crypto-currency to gain significant public trust and adoption.

Dr. Chiesa will further explain one of Bitcoin’s main limitations: its lack of privacy due to the fact that every payment is broadcast in plaintext. And he will conclude his discussion by explaining how to solve this problem with a beautiful cryptographic tool, zero knowledge proofs. This solution was recently deployed in the wild, as part of the cryptocurrency Zcash.
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Kannan Soundararajan, Stanford University

Primes Fall for the Gambler’s Fallacy

The gambler’s fallacy is the erroneous belief that if (for example) a coin comes up heads often, then in the next toss it is more likely to be tails. In Dr. Soundararajan’s recent work with Robert Lemke Oliver, they found that funnily enough, the primes exhibit a kind of gambler’s fallacy: for example, consecutive primes do not like to have the same last digit. Dr. Soundararajan will show some of the data on this, and explain what their research leads them to believe is happening.
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Bernd Sturmfels: University of California, Berkeley


Beyond Linear Algebra

Linear algebra is the foundation of scientific computing and its numerous applications. Yet, the world is nonlinear. In this lecture we argue that it pays off to work with models that are described by nonlinear polynomials, while still taking advantage of the power of numerical linear algebra. We offer a glimpse of applied algebraic geometry, by discussing current trends in tensor decomposition, polynomial optimization, and algebraic statistics. Continue reading “Bernd Sturmfels: University of California, Berkeley”