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A Matter of Agreement

March 7, 2016


On the 2015 Turing Award

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Mirror image of source

Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman, and Ralph Merkle publicly broke the yoke of symmetry in cryptography in the 1970s. Their work created the era of modern cryptography—all previous work, including the great work of Claude Shannon in 1949, implicitly assumed that the system must be symmetric.

Today Dick and I congratulate Diffie and Hellman on winning the 2015 ACM Turing Award and discuss the contributions of all three.
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The Pierce-Birkhoff Conjecture

February 27, 2016


A kind of hierarchy collapse?

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Cropped from father-son bio source

Garrett Birkhoff was a mathematician who is best known for his research on lattices, and also his work on teaching of abstract algebra. He was at Harvard almost his whole career.

Today we wish to discuss a conjecture that he made with Richard Pierce that remains open today.
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Coins on a Chessboard

February 21, 2016


A 35-year-old puzzle with extras

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DeLong Lecture Series source

Maxim Kontsevich has established deep connections between algebraic geometry and mechanisms of physics. He won a Fields medal in 1998 for “contributions to four problems of geometry” and recently won one of the inaugural Breakthrough Prizes in Mathematics, having earlier won the corresponding prize in Fundamental Physics. He divides his time between the University of Miami and the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES), which boasted Alexander Grothendieck at its inception. His IHES bio says that he is known for

…drawing on the systematic utilization of known deformations of algebraic structures and the introduction of new ones that have been revealed to pertain to many other questions where there were no a-priori connections.

Today we discuss a much lighter topic he thought up as a teenager that uses coins on a chessboard.
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Waves, Hazards, and Guesses

February 16, 2016


Some matters of gravity in science

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Moshe Vardi is famous for many things, including his brilliant turn as the Editor-in-Chief of the Communications of the ACM. In the current issue he contributed an Editor’s Letter titled “The Moral Hazard of Complexity-Theoretic Assumptions.”

Today Ken and I want to comment on Moshe’s piece and the larger issue of guesses and possible hazards in science.
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New NAE Members

February 8, 2016
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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.
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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?

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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

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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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