A Thank-You to Jim Simons
The Berkeley Theory Institute is announced
Jim Simons is a mathematician who is noted for the Chern-Simons forms from a paper co-authored with Shiing-Shen Chern. These underlie the Chern-Simons theory of topological quantum fields advanced by Edward Witten, which also involves the Jones Polynomial and other knot invariants. In the mid-1960’s he joined the Communications Research Division of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), specializing in cryptanalysis and other applications of discrete mathematics, and then he was appointed chair of the mathematics department of Stony Brook University. In 1978 he left academia to create a hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, whose success has made him, according to the Financial Times, “the world’s smartest billionaire.”
Today Ken and I wish to thank Simons for his philanthropy in general, and for creating the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at U.C. Berkeley in particular. Thanks to Jim and his wife Marilyn.
I do not have the pleasure of knowing Simons, but we have an intersection through IDA. Years after he left, I arrived at Princeton and was a long time consultant to the Communications Research Division. I cannot say more.
As you all probably already knew—but was just formally announced—the Simons Foundation is creating with Berkeley a new theory center. There already are many centers around the world for various sciences, and the idea of a center for computer science theory was perhaps pioneered by Cornell University a quarter-century ago, but to quote Lance Fortnow already today,
This will be a game-changer for CS theory.
As stated in today’s New York Times article and also noted by Lance, the center will host “about 70 visiting researchers at any one time, including faculty members, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.” This is great.
Thanks and Applause Also to Berkeley
We also want to thank Dick Karp and the rest of the Berkeley team for putting together a terrific proposal. While many worked hard on this proposal, I believe two should be especially thanked: Christos Papadimitriou and Alistair Sinclair, who are part of the initial management team. I have had no direct access to any of the Simons proposals, but am sure they all were strong. I have worked in the past on putting together such large projects—DIMACS is one example—and they take a huge amount time and hard work. Thanks, Dick.
A last comment. The formal press release was written by Sarah Yang. Ken and I differ on a small mattter in her opening paragraph:
Berkeley—A groundbreaking $60 million award to the University of California, Berkeley, from the Simons Foundation will establish the campus as the worldwide center for theoretical computer science. The grant funds the creation of a new institute where top computer theorists and researchers from around the globe will converge to explore the mathematical foundations of computer science and extend them to tackle challenges in fields as diverse as mathematics, health care, climate modeling, astrophysics, genetics, economics and business.
I think the phrase “will establish the campus as the worldwide center for theoretical computer science” probably should be changed a bit, since in my opinion Berkeley already was one of the great centers for theoretical computer science. Ken, however, opines that “establish” can also mean to confirm or render unassailable a position that is already gained. I agree with Ken the more I think about it, so Yang is right. Oh well.
I am honored to be on the outsider advisory board of the Berkeley center, and I think one of the interesting open problems that they will face is: what areas should they focus on in the future? They plan to be quite open, and are at this time planning ways for you to give them input, or even to get more involved in the center directly. Stay tuned.
Finally, again thank you Marilyn and Jim for their support; and thank you to Dick, Christos, Alistair, and their team for the hard work they have already done. The hardest—but most fun—part is next.