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New NAE Members

February 8, 2016
tags: ,

More computer scientists are elected to the academy

Dan Mote, the President of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), just announced this year’s class of members elected to the NAE.

Today, I am thrilled to see that several computer scientists were among the class.
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Magic To Do

February 7, 2016

Can we avoid accepting what we cannot verify?

Cropped from biography source

Arthur Clarke was a British writer of great breadth and huge impact. He was a science writer, of both fiction and non-fiction. His works are too many to list, but 2001: A Space Odyssey—the novel accompanying the movie—is perhaps his most famous. He received both a British knighthood and the rarer Pride of Sri Lanka award, so that both “Sri” and “Sir” were legally prefixed to his name.

Today Dick and I want to raise questions about modern cryptography, complexity, and distinguishing science from “magic.”
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The 2016 Knuth Prize

February 2, 2016

A non-announcement announcement

Crop from Farkas Prize src

Michel Goemans is the chair of this year’s ACM/IEEE Knuth Prize committee. He teaches at MIT and among many wonderful achievements co-won the 2000 MOS/AMS Fulkerson Prize with David Williamson for their great work on approximation for MAX CUT and MAX SAT and other optimization problems.

A few days ago he emailed me to ask if Ken and I would announce this year’s call for nominations.
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Failure Of Unique Factorization

January 30, 2016
tags: , , ,

A simple example of the failure of the fundamental theorem of arithmetic


Ernst Kummer was a German mathematician active in the early 1800s. He is most famous for his beautiful work on an approach designed to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem (FLT).

Today we will talk about a barrier that stopped his approach from succeeding.
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Minsky The Theorist

January 27, 2016

Marvin Minsky’s contributions to complexity theory

Cropped from BBC feature on AI

Marvin Minsky, sad to relate, passed away last Sunday. He was one of the great leaders of artificial intelligence (AI), and his early work helped shape the field for decades.

Today Ken and I remember him also as a theorist.

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A Chess Firewall at Zero?

January 21, 2016

We halve our blunder rate when infinitesimally ahead, but why?

Crop from Seneca chess quote source

Lucius Seneca was a Roman playwright, philosopher, and statesman of the first century. He is called “the Younger” because his father Marcus Seneca was also a famous writer. His elder brother Lucius Gallio appears as a judge in the Book of Acts. Beside many quotations from his work, Seneca is famous for one he is not known to have said:

“To err is human.”

Lest we cluck at human error in pinning down ancient quotations, the source for the following updated version is also unknown—even with our legions of computers by which to track it:

“To err is human, but to really screw things up requires a computer.”

Today I report a phenomenon about human error that is magnified by today’s computers’ deeper search, and that I believe arises from their interaction with complexity properties of chess.
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Did Euclid Really Mean ‘Random’?

January 12, 2016

Euclid writes randomness into his Elements

Cropped from source (Garrett Coakley)

Euclid is, of course, the Greek mathematician, who is often referred to as the “Father of Geometry.”

Today Ken and I want to talk about an “error” that appears in the famous volumes written by Euclid a few years ago—about 2300 years ago.

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