Here it is. Enjoy! (But sorry, no new questions right now.)
Archive for the ‘Ask Me Anything’ Category
With the fall semester imminent, and by popular request, I figured I’d do another Ask Me Anything (see here for the previous editions). This one has a special focus: I’m looking for questions from readers who consider themselves members of groups that have historically been underrepresented in the Shtetl-Optimized comments section. Besides the “obvious”—e.g., women and underrepresented ethnic groups—other examples might include children, traditionally religious people, jocks, liberal-arts majors… (but any group that includes John Sidles is probably not an example). If I left out your group, please go ahead and bring it to my and your fellow readers’ attention!
My overriding ideal in life—what is to me as Communism was to Lenin, as Frosted Flakes are to Tony the Tiger—is people of every background coming together to discover and debate universal truths that transcend their backgrounds. So few things have ever stung me more than accusations of being a closed-minded ivory-tower elitist white male nerd etc. etc. Anyway, to anyone who’s ever felt excluded here for whatever reason, I hope this AMA will be taken as a small token of goodwill.
Similar rules apply as to my previous AMAs:
- Only one question per person.
- No multi-part questions, or questions that require me to read a document or watch a video and then comment on it.
- Questions need not have anything to do with your underrepresented group (though they could). Math, science, futurology, academic career advice, etc. are all fine. But please be courteous; anything gratuitously nosy or hostile will be left in the moderation queue.
- I’ll stop taking further questions most likely after 24 hours (I’ll post a warning before closing the thread).
Update (Sep. 6): For anyone from the Boston area, or planning to visit it, I have an important piece of advice. Do not ever, under any circumstances, attempt to visit Walden Pond, and tell everyone you know to stay away. After we spent 40 minutes driving there with a toddler, the warden literally screamed at us to go away, that the park was at capacity. It wasn’t an issue of parking: even if we’d parked elsewhere, we just couldn’t go. Exceptions were made for the people in front of us, but not for us, the ones with the 2-year-old who’d been promised her weekend outing would be to meet her best friend at Walden Pond. It’s strangely fitting that what for Thoreau was a place of quiet contemplation, is today purely a site of overcrowding and frustration.
Another Update: OK, no new questions please, only comments on existing questions! I’ll deal with the backlog later today. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
Update (5/7): Enough! Thanks, everyone, for asking so many imaginative questions, and please accept my apologies if yours remains unaddressed. (It’s nothing personal: they simply came fast and furious, way faster than I could handle in an online fashion—so I gave up on chronological order and simply wrote answers in whatever order they popped into my head.) At this point, I’m no longer accepting any new questions. I’ll try to answer all the remaining questions by tomorrow night.
By popular request, for the next 36 hours—so, from now until ~11PM on Tuesday—I’ll have a long-overdue edition of “Ask Me Anything.” (For the previous editions, see here, here, here, and here.) Today’s edition is partly to celebrate my new, tenured “freedom to do whatever the hell I want” (as well as the publication after 7 years of Quantum Computing Since Democritus), but is mostly just to have an excuse to get out of changing diapers (“I’d love to, honey, but the world is demanding answers!”). Here are the ground rules:
- One question per person, total.
- Please check to see whether your question was already asked in one of the previous editions—if it was, then I’ll probably just refer you there.
- No questions with complicated backstories, or that require me to watch a video, read a paper, etc. and comment on it.
- No questions about D-Wave. (As it happens, Matthias Troyer will be giving a talk at MIT this Wednesday about his group’s experiments on the D-Wave machine, and I’m planning a blog post about it—so just hold your horses for a few more days!)
- If your question is offensive, patronizing, nosy, or annoying, I reserve the right to give a flippant non-answer or even delete the question.
- Keep in mind that, in past editions, the best questions have almost always been the most goofball ones (“What’s up with those painting elephants?”).
That’s it: ask away!
Update (5/12): I’ve finally answered all ~90 questions, a mere 4 days after the official end of the “Ask Me Anything” session! Thanks so much to everyone for all the great questions. For your reading convenience, here’s a guide to my answers (personal favorites are in bold):
- The probability that we live in the Matrix (see followups here, here, here, here)
- Glauber dynamics
- My behavior as Waterloo lunch organizer
- The saddest thing
- Quantum cellular automata
- P!=NP vs. P!=PSPACE
- My knowledge of general relativity
- Advantages of Dirac ket notation
- The evolution of my career goals
- Open problems related to BosonSampling
- Book-signing for Quantum Computing Since Democritus
- In an infinite universe, must all possible earthlike planets exist?
- Was 9/11 an inside job?
- The fine-structure constant and quantum computing
- Accessible open problems in complexity theory
- Tightening Razborov’s monotone lower bound for CLIQUE
- In what sense is the quadratic Grover speedup “provable”?
- Fisher information
- “Associate Professor Without Tenure”
- Is the whole universe “just” a vector in Hilbert space?
- How to initialize a qubit
- My knowledge of my tenure case
- How I’d build a quantum computer in 20-30 years
- Could God solve the halting problem?
- “Who’s yer daddy?”
- How long I’d want to live
- Could the difficulty of building a QC grow exponentially with number of qubits?
- Why does quantum computing require physically different hardware?
- The double-slit experiment and “lazy evaluation”
- Bioengineered flying horses vs. flying robot horses: which will be first?
- The last program I wrote
- How much I sleep
- Recent TCS advances with practical applications in the near future
- What I’d ask Terry Tao
- How many digits will the largest known prime have in 10 or 100 years?
- Whether I believe in free will
- The nature of time
- My progress in learning Hebrew
- Social science breakthroughs that could bring about world peace
- Superquadratic advantage of the quantum adiabatic algorithm over classical search?
- Is a classical world also a quantum world?
- The name of the blog
- John Sidles’ prognostiquestion
- Books and films for Lily to grow up with
- Does QM generate “true” randomness?
- Fictitious proofs of P!=NP
- The secret of happiness
- What I did in college
- The blowup in reducing theorem-proving to 3SAT
- Whether CUP objected to the free QCSD lecture notes
- The top 5 not-yet-written books that I’d most like to read
- Does the continuum “exist” in physical reality? (see followup here)
- Could Nature itself be inconsistent?
- Zen koan about a mouse eating cat food
- “Maybe, it’s the equality sign?”
- Classical computer is to QC as QC is to what?
- Why are CS theorists obsessed with polynomial time?
- My favorite complexity theorist
- A bad approach to factoring large integers
- Am I a Bayesian?
- How to build an intelligent machine
- Will automated theorem provers become as standard as Mathematica/Maple?
- My initiation into theoretical computer science
- How to get an 8-year-old excited about programming
- “Am I insane?”
- Levin universal search
- Brain emulation by 2023? A $10,000 bet
- How being in “communist Berkeley” in my formative years shaped my worldview (see followup here)
- Israel vs. Apartheid South Africa
- Will useful QC precede its public announcement, or vice versa?
- My work habits
- US immigration policy
- My favorite Israeli foods
- If I guess randomly, how likely am I to get this question right?
- Busy Beaver numbers: is BB(n+1) provably much larger than BB(n)? (see followups here and here)
- Computational complexity and biological/social evolution
- P vs. NP vs. Shannon capacity of cycles problem
- Video games based on my research interests
- Bayesian reasoning when there are copies of yourself
- Pr[ PH=PSPACE | PH collapses ]
- My favorite interpretation of QM
- What I’d do if I proved P=NP
- QM and consciousness
- QM and free will
- Cultures of Clarkson, Cornell, Berkeley, IAS, Waterloo, MIT
- How I decide what’s ethical
- American vs. Chilean universities
Update (8/16): Phew! By my count, I’ve answered 139 questions over the past few days. Thanks so much to everyone for submitting them, and please don’t submit any more!
Incidentally, to those of you who complain (correctly) that I no longer update this blog enough, there’s a simple solution that should carry you through at least the next year. Namely, just read a few “Ask Me Anything” answers every week! To help you with that, I’ve compiled the following abridged table of contents to my uninformed spoutings:
- Whether P=NP would let you violate the Second Law
- Whether mathematicians will (still) like complexity theory in the year 2100
- Transhumanism and its relation to quantum computing
- The hardness of simulating Newtonian physics
- How much I’d pay for a D-Wave One
- My views on mathematical definiteness, favorite areas of CS, and favorite philosophers
- How hard can problems in P get?
- The “higher education bubble,” and whether people should think twice before going to college
- Will the center of scientific gravity shift from the US to China?
- My “creative process” (such as it is), and whether I’d leave academia
- Israel, Libya, Egypt
- Worst-case versus best-case running time
- Favorite ice cream
- Favorite sci-fi writer
- The status of my “$25 Challenge”
- Wikipedia, and “nerd versus Jew”
- How Umesh Vazirani manages students
- Free jazz
- Neanderthal-level machine intelligence
- The value of oracles
- Decision problems versus function problems
- Software patents
- Quantum computing and complexity breakthroughs of the past decade
- Super-strong derandomization, and what I’d ask an alien
- Terry Tao
- How I justify attending conferences
- Scientific work in languages other than English
- Simple things in math and CS that I don’t understand
- Whether I’d rather solve P vs. NP or meet aliens
- Borders of a Palestinian state
- Why 20% of Americans can’t locate the US on a world map
- My greatest fears
- Open-access journals
- The existence of God
- MIT undergrads
- The history of complexity theory, and “why” IP=PSPACE should hold
- Favorite movie, favorite novel, favorite theorem
- Which charity I’d donate $1,000,000 to
- Favorite quantum information results of the last year
- My location on the political spectrum
- The 1-year anniversary of the Deolalikar Affair
- Teaching people the difference between rationalism and empiricism
- What happened to “Physics for Doofuses”?
- What happened to “Quantum Computing Since Democritus”?
- Proving P!=NP by exploiting structure of specific NP-complete problems
- Zionism, pacifism, Iraq, Vietnam, death penalty, abortion
- Drugs and alcohol
- Computer-assisted theorem proving
- Why to care about P vs. NP, and whether computers will solve it first
- Whether I ever worked on P vs. NP
- Yellow books
- Interpreting barriers to proving P!=NP as logical independence statements
- The nature of time
- She believes in ghosts, he’s a scientific rationalist
- Research projects for undergrads
- Classification of polynomial-time algorithms
- Is the universe finite or infinite?
- Quantum algorithms beyond Shor/Grover/quantum simulation
- Will theoretical computer science “converge” with psychology?
- Are sexual preferences “socially constructed”?
- Should religions be judged by their scriptures?
- What to do if you think you can multiply matrices in near-linear time
- Would I want P to equal NP?
- My late cat
- Bosons versus photons
- The relativization operator and Leibniz’s Law
- Do I feel guilty about my advantages, as I “dine in exclusive Boston eateries”?
- The Aaron Swartz case
Update: Thanks for the many, many, many great questions! To keep things slightly under control, I’ll be fielding questions that are asked before 9PM EST tonight.
Also, sorry my blog went down for an hour! I always count on Bluehost to not be there when I need it.
Alright, I put it off for most of the summer, but I guess it’s as good a time as any, now that (a) I’m finally done philosophizing for a while and (b) my wife Dana is away at a workshop, her civilizing and nerdiness-moderating influences temporarily absent.
So, by popular demand, and as promised a couple months ago, for the next 24 hours (with intermittent sleep breaks), I’ll once again be fielding any and all questions in the comments section. Four simple ground rules:
- No multi-part questions: one question per comment and three total per person.
- While you can ask anything, if it’s too hostile, nosy, or irritating I might not answer it…
- I’ll only answer the first three questions about academic career advice (since in previous Ask Me Anything posts, that topic tended to drown out everything else).
- No questions that require me to read an article, watch a video, etc.
Update (8/19): I’ve answered most of the remaining questions and closed this thread. If your question wasn’t answered earlier, please check now—sorry for the delay! And thanks to everyone who asked.
This blog was born, in part, out of existential anguish. My starting axioms, reflected in the blog’s title, were that
- nerds like me are hothouse plants, requiring a bizarre, historically-improbable social environment to thrive in life;
- if such an environment ever existed, then it didn’t survive one or more major upheavals of the twentieth century, such as the sexual revolution, the Holocaust, or the end of the Cold War;
- I and other nerds were therefore essentially walking fossils, absurdly maladapted for the civilization in which we found ourselves (even, ironically, as that civilization relied more than ever on nerdly skills); and
- all that being the case, I might as well kill some time by proving quantum complexity theorems and writing a blog full of crass jokes.
And therein lies the problem: this summer, I’ve simply been enjoying life too much to want to take time out to blog about it. Happiness, it seems, is terrible for my literary productivity.
Still, enough people now rely on this blog for their procrastination needs that I feel a moral obligation to continue serving them. So to overcome my own procrastination barrier, from now on I’m going to try writing entries that are basically just “requests for comment”: stones in a stone soup, with the intellectual barley, discursive salt, argumentative carrots, and dialectical beef chunks to be supplied by you, my readers.
(To a few commenters: thanks so much for the plywood, rotting raccoon carcasses, and used syringes, but the soup should be fine without them…)
To start things off, today we’re going to have another open thread. You can ask pretty much anything; my one request is that you don’t ask for grad school or job application advice, since we already covered those things ad nauseum in two previous open threads.
Here are a few examples of things to ask me about:
1. My recent trip to the Azores for the FQXi Conference on Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2. My recent trip to Paris for the Complexity’2009 conference
3. My recent trip to Lexington, Kentucky for the Quantum Theory and Symmetries conference
4. The recent breakthrough paper by Jain, Ji, Upadhyay, and Watrous, finally proving what many in the quantum complexity world long suspected: that QIP=IP=PSPACE. That is, quantum interactive proof systems provide no more computational power than classical ones. (For more see this post from Lance and Steve Fenner, or this one from the Pontiff.)
5. The exciting new Polymath Project, to find (under some number-theoretic assumption) a deterministic polynomial-time algorithm for generating n-bit primes. (Hat tip to Ryan O’Donnell.)
Oh, one other thing: while you’re welcome to ask personal questions, they’ll most likely be answered not by me but by Pablo the PSPACE Pirate.
Update (7/31): One question per person, please!
Alright, no more politics for a while. I’m sick of it.
Given the relative success of Open thread #1, I thought I’d give you the readers a second opportunity to ask about whatever’s on your minds, except politics. Quantum complexity classes and painting elephants are definitely fair game.
(Update: One question at a time, please!)
(Update: Thanks for the questions, everyone! The open thread is now closed. We’ll do this again!)
I’ve had a miserable week (only partly because of the headaches and coughing fits that have been keeping me up all night), and feel a need to be of use to some other human being without leaving my apartment. So this thread is for you to ask about whatever’s on your mind — complexity classes, philosophy, grad school advice, anteaters … anything asked in earnest will be responded to, in considerably less than the two years it took me for Lev R.
Update (4/13): Having spent a good part of the weekend answering 57 questions about everything from quantum computing to painting elephants, I think it’s time to call it quits. Thanks to everyone who submitted; it really cheered me up! We’ll do this again sometime.