From Boston to Austin

I have some big news—well, not for the world, but for me personally.  Starting this summer, I’ll be leaving MIT, and starting a new phase of my life, as David J. Bruton Jr. Centennial Professor of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin.  I’ll also be the founding director of UT Austin’s new quantum computing center, whose motto will be “Hook ’em Hadamards“, and whose logo will depict a fierce longhorn bull, whose horns are bra and ket signs enclosing an inner product between two quantum states.  My brilliant and talented wife, Dana Moshkovitz Aaronson, will also be joining UT Austin, as a tenured Associate Professor of Computer Science.  Our current PhD students will remain enrolled at MIT, while also spending as much time as they like in Austin.

I’ll deeply miss MIT and Boston.  More than anything else, I’ll miss the phenomenal students at MIT, who I’ve had the immense privilege to teach and learn from for nine years.  Go Beavers!  I’m grateful as well to my many friends and colleagues who made my years at MIT so rewarding: a time of personal growth, in which I developed from a skinny, insecure 26-year-old nerd, blogging and trying to prove oracle separations, into a pot-bellied, tenured, 34-year-old married-father nerd, still blogging and trying to prove the same oracle separations (but no longer as diligently).

To nip an otherwise-inevitable rumor: I wasn’t forced to leave MIT over anything here on Shtetl-Optimized.  I feel the need to say this because, within the last year, I’ve spent hundreds of miserable hours scrolling through social media threads wherein stranger after stranger proclaimed me basically the world’s worst scum (tied, perhaps, with the other Scott A.), and even called on MIT to fire me.  Given that experience, it was repeatedly jarring for me to reenter reality and discover how irrelevant this all was, either to MIT or to any of the universities that recruited me and Dana.  Bizarre as it sounds, CS departments mostly cared about what actual research we were doing and could bring to them!  So students and faculty afraid to debate anything controversial online under their real names, however politely, should know that even in 2016, the banner of academic freedom yet waves.

Without further ado, let me list ten things that are awesome about Austin and that helped attract me and Dana there.

  1. One of the strongest CS departments and theory groups in the world.  From 1984 until his death in 2002, UT Austin was home to Edsger Dijkstra, who not only discovered Dijkstra’s algorithm but also penned the immortal words that might as well be tattooed on my stomach: computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.  Today, Austin’s CS department is rapidly expanding, and just within theory, is home to David Zuckerman, Anna Gal, Vijaya Ramachandran, Brent Waters, Eric Price, and Greg Plaxton.  With me and Dana there as well, I can say with all due modesty that we intend to compete against any CS theory program anywhere in the world.
  2. Adam Klivans.  The closest I’ve had to a mentor in the exceedingly narrow field of theoretical computer science humor.
  3. An outstanding recent track record with CS theory PhD students.  Since the turn of the century, UT Austin has produced Sasha Sherstov, Anup Rao, Allison Bishop LewkoSeth Pettie, Vladimir Trifonov, Raghu Meka, and other stars of the CS theory world.  That record lets me without the slightest hesitation tell hotshot undergrads who want to do classical and/or quantum complexity theory to apply to Austin for grad school.
  4. The opportunity to build—or rather, rebuild—a UT presence in quantum computing.  While I’m excited to help build a new group—and I feel like it’s the right time in my career to do that—I can’t say that this is the first time UT Austin will have a significant presence in quantum computing.  Way back in the late 70s and early 80s, UT was home to most of the (proto) “quantum computing research” that existed on earth.  It’s there that John Archibald Wheeler philosophized about “It from Bit,” that Bryce deWitt popularized the Many-Worlds Interpretation and Hugh Everett gave his only public lecture on the subject, that David Deutsch did a four-year postdoc in which he formed the seeds of the idea of quantum computing, and that Wojciech Zurek, William Wootters, and Benjamin Schumacher (who between them, founded decoherence theory, proved the No-Cloning Theorem, and coined the term “qubit”) did their PhDs.  I’m honored to tread in their footsteps.
  5. Money.  Texas, as it turns out, has a lot of it.  Now, the conventional wisdom would be that Texas’ wealth is mostly irrelevant to academic scientists, because it’s controlled by reactionary oilmen for whom curiosity-driven research is not exactly the top priority.  That might have been true about the administrations of George W. Bush or Rick Perry.  But Texas’ current governor, Greg Abbott, while still a right-wing Republican, also pushed through an aggressive $4-billion measure called the Governor’s University Research Initiative, one of whose central goals is to recruit leading scientists to Texas.
  6. Weather.  To a first approximation, Austin is lovely and pleasant during the academic year (even as the planet warms, this should remain true for at least a few more decades)—and while I’d sort of vaguely imagined all of Texas as a giant desert, Austin turns out to be lush and green and full of swimming holes.  The summers, of course, are hot enough to fuse hydrogen.  But for academics like me and Dana, it turns out that there’s an elegant solution to that, one unavailable for dealing with New England winters.  That solution is to leave town, to use June, July, and August for miscellaneous academic travel.
  7. Quality of life.  If we’re being honest, I’m not someone likely to spend much time at indie-rock festivals, or whatever quirky cultural stuff it is that’s made Austin the fastest-growing city in the US.  But here’s something I do care about: even though highway traffic in Austin is bad and getting worse, that need not affect my life too much.  Research indicates that, for roughly the price of our current 2-bedroom condo in Cambridge, we could get a lovely 4-bedroom with a yard that’s in walking distance to the UT campus, as well as to stores, restaurants, good schools, and parks.
  8. Schools.  I had a pretty miserable experience growing up.  I don’t know if Lily (or any future children Dana and I have) will be anything like I was, but given that she’s in an “at-risk population” for nerdiness, I’d love to live in a place with nerd education options that don’t stink.  Austin, happily, has two renowned math/science magnet schools—Kealing Middle School and LASA High School—which admit based on test scores.  (By contrast, in most parts in the US, such programs either don’t exist or admit purely by lottery.)  Austin also has the only elementary school, anywhere, whose admissions director told me that sure, they’d let a student skip a grade if it made sense academically.
  9. Steven Weinberg.  I confess: it probably affected me more than it should that arguably the greatest scientist now walking the earth, a legend of physics who could go wherever the hell he wanted, has chosen to spend the past thirty-plus years at UT Austin.  On our last visit there, Dana, my parents, and I had the honor of having dinner with Weinberg.  After we’d exchanged stories about Telluride House at Cornell, where Weinberg and I both lived as undergrads (and which apparently changed little between the 1950s and the 1990s), Weinberg sung the praises of Austin for hours.  (Admittedly, part of why Weinberg enjoys Austin so much is that there it’s easy to be on a first-name basis with the mayor, tech billionaires, and all the other leaders of the city—an advantage that might be Nobel-laureate-specific!)
  10. Adventure.  By background and temperament, I’m probably one of the “least Texan” Americans imaginable: a nerdy east-coast Jewish intellectual who enjoys snow, can’t much tolerate spicy food, is bored by cowboy movies and fears physical confrontation.  Indeed, until I actually visited the place, my only real associations with Texas were tumbleweeds blowing across a parched desert hellscape, oilmen with giant belt buckles guffawing about so-called global warming, crazed football hooligans filling city-sized stadiums, shotguns, rattlesnakes, and George W. Bush.  But then, the contrast between the over-the-top image and the pleasant reality of Austin had the paradoxical effect of making moving to Texas feel like an adventure—an adventure with an acceptable risk profile.  Like, if I’m going to uproot at all, why not to a place that’s strange and different and interesting?

Even given the above, some people will ask about things they’d consider obvious dealbreakers for moving to Texas.  In particular, what about the infamous new law that essentially forces UT Austin to let students carry concealed firearms to class?  Well, I oppose that law.  Indeed, when I haven’t been angering the social-justice left, I’ve been angering the right by (for example) blogging about my strong support for gun control.  To me, it seems like a terrible idea for the Texas state legislature, which provides only 14% of the UT system’s budget, to force on UT a gun policy that its faculty and students overwhelmingly hate.  And I admired Steven Weinberg’s announcement that he intends to defy the law in his classroom, and fight it out in court if necessary.  (Weinberg also gave, as one reason to oppose the law, how much harder it will make it for UT to recruit faculty.)

But at the same time … Dana is Israeli.  For her, it’s perfectly normal to go outside and see 18-year-old girls chatting and laughing with huge-ass machine guns slung over their shoulders.  Having spent a month of each year in Tel Aviv, seeing passersby with guns has become, if not exactly normal to me, then not something I fear 2% as much as I fear crashing my car.  And indeed, if one takes a statistical approach to risk, Austin has a much lower per-capita violent crime rate than Boston does.

And yes, I know, the US and Israel have completely different gun cultures: in Israel, for example, the only people carrying around semiautomatics are trained and monitored conscripts; there’s no concept of a private “right” to such a weapon.  And yes, the principle matters.  But if one is unwilling to move to any place that has any laws one disagrees with, one should probably look into faculty positions on offshore barges or Jupiter.

Austin itself, of course, is only slightly less liberal than Portland, the blueberry in the tomato soup as Rick Perry so memorably put it.  Even so, the maps insist that Austin is in Texas, which means that while there one will probably encounter Texans.  (A friend, on hearing that Dana took a quick liking to Austin when she visited, quipped that it was probably because Austin reminded her of Israel: “hot and surrounded by hostile territory.”)

Now, the actual Texans who I’ve met so far have been frighteningly warm and hospitable.  But the question stands: what will I do if, while living there, I meet (let’s suppose) some sun-calloused cattle ranchers who consider me an arrogant, effete coastal liberal who patronizes them in blog posts like this one?  What if they tell me to scram, head back east, and never mess with Texas again?

Well, I’ve already decided what I’d like to do in this hypothetical situation.  I’d like to invite the ranchers over to my place for some barbecued beers and ice-cold steaks, or whatever it is you eat in Texas, and tell them all about quantum query algorithms, and ask them about cattle feed, and try to find common ground, just like I tried to find common ground with the other end of the political spectrum—with the folks who called me a clueless, patriarchal, entitled white male douchebro who silenced their already-marginalized voices by not agreeing with everything they said.  For I’ve increasingly come to the conviction that, while you might fail to find common ground with someone, you’ve got to try, you’ve got to steelman their argument and learn whatever you can from it.  I once, for example, thought about the Religious Right as purely contemptible, deserving only unthinking snark, and I was completely wrong.  Even when I was right on the underlying issues, I was wrong on the epistemology.  In Texas, hopefully I’ll have a chance to do better.

In summary:

  1. Wherever you’re at in your career, if you’d like to do quantum information and/or theoretical computer science research on the wild frontier—if QMA, QCMA, and BQP/qpoly strike you as little more than wayward calves to be lassoed in—then please consider joining us at UT Austin.  To be concrete: we’ll be looking for distinguished senior faculty to hire under the Governor’s University Research Initiative, we’ll be looking for tenure-track junior faculty in both CS and ECE, we’ll be looking for postdocs, we’ll be looking for grad students, and finally we’ll be looking for undergrads who’d like to join the innovative Turing Scholars honors program.
  2. If you’d just like to come for a week and give a seminar, we’ll have money for that too.
  3. Hook ’em Hadamards!

Totally Unrelated Update (Feb. 29): Michael Mitzenmacher has asked me to announce that nominations are open for the SIGACT Distinguished Service Prize. More information is available here.

132 Responses to “From Boston to Austin”

  1. Michele Amoretti Says:

    Well, compliments, Scott! This sounds as a great step for your career and for quantum computing research, as well. Enjoy Texas!

  2. Daniel Harlow Says:

    Congratulations to you and Dana! MIT’s loss is Austin’s gain, I’ll be sure to come visit soon!

  3. Daniel Says:

    Ad maiorem – congratulations on this appointment 😀

    Do you have prior administrative experience running such a center and if not, (how) are you preparing ?

  4. Shecky R Says:

    Hate to hear this in some ways, but then I’ve always heard great things about Austin… so, CONGRATS!!
    Here’s hoping you run for governor one day and reform the rest of that friggin’ state (I mean before they vote to secede) 😉

  5. Alan Aspuru-Guzik Says:

    Congratulations to both. Excellent articulation and dissection of the pros and cons of any faculty move. The best of success for your new adventure. I have never been in Austin. It is likely I will eventually visit given the academic traveling salesman aspect of our lives and if so, let’s have a cold one over there. I will stop by the MIT group meeting also to say hi before you pack your boots 🙂

  6. ianamartin Says:


    As a Texan, I salute you and welcome you to our state.

    Though, as I live in NYC, I won’t be able to give you the welcome you deserve.

    My mother did her Ph.D. at UT Austin, and my dad did his Masters after he got back from WW2. It’s a great school, and I think you will enjoy your time there.

    If you ever accidentally find yourself in the Waco area, look my family up. They would be happy to entertain you on their farm, and who knows, maybe I might be visiting.

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite a long time now, and I think that your moving here is probably the best thing to happen to Texas since I left.

    Many Mozels. I hope to get down to Austin and take you out to lunch in the near future.

  7. Boaz Barak Says:

    Congratulations to you and Dana!

    This is a huge loss for the Cambridge theory community, but I am happy for you.

    Whenever you feel that the good weather in Austin is making you grow soft, you’re very welcome to come visit us at Harvard.

  8. Ernesto Says:

    Congratulations, Scott and Dana, ll the best in this adventurous move!

  9. Historian Says:

    I believe the telescopes quote is first due to Mike Fellows.

  10. Ashley Says:

    Congratulations to both of you on this exciting move!

  11. Scott Says:

    Thanks so much, everyone!

  12. David Says:

    Congratulations, Scott! It’s a loss for MIT but good luck with life and research in Austin!

  13. Brian Hayes Says:

    What a loss for Cambridge. We’ll miss you here. But so be it. Go west, young man. Or go south by southwest. We’re counting on you to create an enclave of sweet reason deep in the heart of . . . Please make Texas safe for TCS.

  14. Moshe Says:

    Congrats. As I went to grad school in Austin, I can confirm that all the great things you heard about Austin are correct.

  15. Ramis Movassagh Says:

    Good luck Scott and have a wonderful start. I loved the post. I did my kindergarten in San Antonio TX and I can’t say I loved it but last year I visited there twice because of JMM and March meeting and it was \infty-ly better. Now Austin has always been known as a much better city. So I infer it must be excellent to live there now😀 Weinberg being around is very inspiring too. Wish y’all the best !

  16. David Speyer Says:

    Congratulations! Sorry to hear that we’ll be missing you at Michigan, but Austin is a great alternative.

  17. Dan Roberts Says:

    Congratulations Scott and Dana!

  18. Scott Says:

    Brian #13:

      Please make Texas safe for TCS.

    I assure you, UT Austin is already one of the safest places anywhere for TCS. Now it just needs to be made safe (again) for quantum information.

  19. asdf Says:

    Hey congrats Scott, this was completely unexpected. Keep us informed about nerd culture in Austin!

    I hope the gun thing doesn’t get to you. UT’s gun policy is actually quite restrained compared to Berkeley and CMU:


  20. D. Eppstein Says:

    Congratulations on the new position!

  21. wolfgang Says:


    >> computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes

    So why not change it to ‘computation science’ or something like that?

  22. Bilal Shaw Says:

    Well dang! Congrats to both of you! You should look forward to SXSW. Heck, I might just have to drag you to it. 😉

  23. Sanjeev Arora Says:

    Congratulations on the move! UT has had a great theory group and it’s now even better.

  24. Scott Says:

    Daniel #3:

      Do you have prior administrative experience running such a center and if not, (how) are you preparing ?

    I have zero such experience and am doing nothing to prepare.

    Anyone who teaches a large undergrad course, or has to fund a group of grad students and postdocs, is forced kicking and screaming to obtain some administrative experience, but that’s all I’ve got. In any case, the Austin quantum information center won’t start out as much more beyond me, my students, my course, and a website. My hope is that it will expand later (but still not to the scale of, say, Waterloo’s IQC or Caltech’s IQIM).

  25. John Preskill Says:


  26. Dan Carney Says:

    Congrats, and enjoy Austin! As someone who recently graduated out of the high-energy theory group at UT, I can say sincerely that I wish you had made this move a decade ago: many of us were quite regretful about the derth of QC/QI people there, and it always felt really odd that such a big place barely had anyone working on that stuff.

  27. Rand Says:

    Ha! MIT fire Scott Aaronson, not in a million years in any of the many worlds. What a notion, I’m sure CSAIL is devastated.

    On the other hand, major congratulations to Scott, Dana, and especially UT Austin computer science.

    About this Quantum Computing Center: Any interest in quantum logics and quantum programming? Seems like the top people in these areas are pretty spread out (modulo maybe the people at Oxford and Radboud) it would be really nice to see a coherent group somewhere in these United States. Though I suspect you’re hiring in quantum complexity at the moment?

  28. Dylan McKay Says:

    Congratulations Scott! Welcome to the South!

  29. Gil Kalai Says:

    Congratulations to UT Austin for getting you brilliant couple (and Lily too, if, as I conjecture, she is going to enroll to UT Austin next year), and congrats to you three for what looks like a perfect environment for a great scientific and personal adventure.

  30. John Sidles Says:

    Please accept my sincere congratulations … you are precisely the right person (as it seems most folks including me) to lead a new quantum computing initiative. It will be tons of fun to see what new quantum chicks fledge from the University of Texas’ new research nest; it’s not an opportunity that a committed quantum researcher could easily pass up.

    As for you and Dana being personally happy in Austin, Texas … well … the same university that proudly graduated psychology student Richard Samet Friedman in 1966, and the same state that gave proudly gave gubernatorial candidate Friedman 12% of its votes in 2006, surely can accommodate the creative energies of the Aaronson family without excessive strain! 🙂

  31. Elad Hazan Says:

    Congratulations Scott and Dana! And to UT Austin for their success in recruiting you both.

  32. Rick Mayforth Says:

    Welcome to Texas! As a former Bay Stater (although I left 40 years ago), I can say I think you’ll enjoy being here. As many of us transplants say, “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could.” And, you may find yourself starting to form some “conservative” views, because from my perspective they mostly derive from common sense and knowledge of history. You’ll hear both from many Texans you meet. Keep in mind that that pot of money that got you here was created by the actions of people like Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

    A couple of other things. As an honest scientist, you owe it to yourself to spend some time researching both sides of the arguments about “climate change.” I have, and am convinced that (1) the science is clearly not settled, and (2) the whole area has been co-opted by politicians for reasons other than pursuing objective scientific results. About gun control, I admit that guns make me nervous because of their destructive power. However, the idea that an overbearing government possesses guns and the citizenry do not makes me more nervous. Finally, what seems to me obvious common sense: how is it that a sign saying “gun free zone” can be other than an open invitation to some sicko who wants to murder a group of innocents? The sicko isn’t going to stop because some law says he can’t own a gun….

  33. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Now we’re never going to get you up to Orono. 🙁

    My own selfish motivations aside, congratulations to both you and Dana!

  34. Daniel Says:

    Congrats Scott and Dana! Texas is lucky to have you both!

  35. bigjon Says:


    I’ve always been a bit curious about Weinberg and his move to UT. Of course his situation is rather different than yours, since he moved when he was nearly 50, and you haven’t even hit middle-age yet. Do you know why Weinberg basically failed to do anything of note once he moved to Texas? Certainly nothing near what he achieved when he was at Berkeley and Harvard. I would have imagined that Weinberg’s move to Texas and his subsequent complete lack of productivity would have made you more skeptical about a move to Texas, not less! What is your thinking on this?

  36. Scott Says:

    Rand #27:

      About this Quantum Computing Center: Any interest in quantum logics and quantum programming? Seems like the top people in these areas are pretty spread out

    It seems to me that quantum logics and quantum programming do have a center, and that center is Oxford! I confess that these are never things that resonated with me personally, though I remain ready to be converted by something spectacular being done in those areas, or even just by a really juicy open problem.

    As for hiring at UT: what I know at this point is that
    (1) the CS and ECE departments will both be doing searches for quantum information faculty within the next several years (the physics department will be deciding on its hiring priorities at a future time; of course I hope that they’ll join);
    (2) I’m obviously very far from the only person who will have input into the process;
    (3) to whatever extent I do have input, I’ll be interested in spectacular researchers from all parts of quantum information science, not just the parts close to my own interests (like complexity theory)—clearly it’s better to have faculty who complement rather than duplicate each other;
    (4) theorists are obviously easier in terms of not needing expensive equipment or lab space, but if an opportunity arose to hire a spectacular quantum computing experimentalist, I’d try to make a case for that within UT.

  37. Scott Says:

    John Preskill #25:


    Thanks! 🙂 As it happens, “yee-haw” was the subject line of my email to Bruce Porter (UT’s CS department chair) and others, announcing our acceptance of UT’s offer. But after receiving thoughtful feedback from our new UT colleagues (“that’s the first ‘yee-haw’ I’ve encountered since moving here, though ‘y’all’ is a different story”), I had second thoughts about it: like, would I announce my move to an Italian university with “mamma mia,” or to Oxford with “hellloooo, I shall joinest thee for scones and tea”? So I scrupulously made this post yee-haw-free. Even so, my inner 9-year-old is delighted that someone as respectable as yourself has now yee-hawed the comments…

  38. Anonymous Says:

    Congratulations on the decision to move! I know you put them further down on your list, but I think that reasons #7 and #8 will give the biggest benefits in the long run. I would caution against skipping grades solely for academic reasons though. While some children may be there academically, the asymmetry in social skills and maturity can end up holding a student back. There are other ways to accelerate and enhance an education without just pushing them forward. Did the schools you talk to mention any of these?

    “I feel the need to say this because, within the last year, I’ve spent hundreds of miserable hours scrolling through social media threads wherein stranger after stranger proclaimed me basically the world’s worst scum (tied, perhaps, with the other Scott A.), and even called on MIT to fire me.”

    That’s an awful lot of research hours that were rudely stolen by internet trolls and their drama. Since you realize that it didn’t really matter, does this mean you will stop feeding the trolls?

  39. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Wow! Wonderful news! Hearty congratulations to all three of you on the move Scott!! I visited Dallas in December for my brother-in-law’s graduation from SMU and I loved the city. I hope to visit Austin sometime in the future.

    Congrats again!

  40. Anon Says:

    Scott…what to say? I thought then with MIT you reached the top but it was not true! You really deserve it: I never saw a person with more passion for his research subject like you.
    All the best,

  41. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    1) Congratulations to you and Dana!

    2) Is there a sketch of the bra-ket version of Bevo, the University of Texas Longhorn Steer mascot? (Or were you just joking?)

    3) Speaking of quantum related cartoons, I believe the following one from Futurama is apropos: .

    It’s one of the show’s great jokes about parallel universes. Namely, there aren’t an infinite number of parallel universes, but rather there’s just two: the main one we know and love and the other one which is the exact same except that everybody wears cowboy apparel. Moreover, these two parallel universes are mutually visible to each other via coin-operated binocular viewers at the tourist rest areas at the edges of the each universe (hence the binocular frame around the picture).

    [P.S. Not to nerd out, and though I imagine it’s probably needless to say, but this claim about the Futurama multiverse is from the Season 3 episode “I Dated a Robot.” Subsequent seasons of Futurama introduce many more parallel universes.]

  42. John Sidles Says:

    A prominent and much-honored Texan who agrees with Rick Mayforth (#32) that “climate science has been co-opted by politicians” lives in Lubbock, just up the road from Austin: she’s Texas Tech’s professor Katherine Hayhoe.

    Yep, there’s plenty of scientific talent roamin` them Texas plains … and more’s a-coming!  🙂

  43. David Lewis Says:

    Congratulations! I hope that all the hours you’ve spent on science outreach via this blog contributed in some way to this great opportunity for you.

  44. Arko Says:

    A friend of mine had already made me privy to your upcoming movement a *month ago*!

    By the way, I suspect that pot-belly is the foremost pernicious effect of this blog. However, the world is the better place for it (I mean the blog, not the… :P)

  45. Jonathan Dowling Says:

    Congrats Scott.
    We’ll have to Shanghai you into SQUINT now.
    Reminds me of the good old days when I was an undergrad at UT Austin and the hired Weinberg and Wheeler. At least this time they are starting at the other end of the alphabet.

    Here are a 100 triva points about the mascot longhorn steers named Bevo through the ages:

  46. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Hmmm…. The Daily Texan!


    …Honest, it was a surprise. Never thought you would ever leave MIT once you got the tenure there. … But then, who knows, it might turn out to be the best move of your career… From what I gather, David Hestenes went to the ASU and stayed put because it worked great by him; David Griffiths went to the Reed and stayed put because that’s what he wanted and it also worked great by him…. And, yes, UT has the aura of Dijkstra…

    People outside the TCS field remember Dijkstra best not for the shortest path or the spanning, but for the following piece (which, I am sure, you must have read already, and must have liked too):

    (It’s a different story that I am all for interdisciplinary efforts (and in fact for even multi-disciplinary efforts).)

    … Anyway, it’s nice to know that you can continue using your blog the way you like, including pointing out the snake oil as you spot it. (I have a pretty good idea of what you might pick up for the snake oil on the hardware side, but I am not so sure on the software side. … And how about the snake oil in the TCS field? Is there any? Or is it that the possibility not only does not exist but in fact cannot, because of the `T’ in it? 😉 )

    Oh well… Too long a comment, once again! Congrats, once again, anyway, and all the best!


  47. Scott Says:

    Bill #41: No, I wasn’t joking about the intended logo of Austin’s quantum information center, but I could use someone with some actual graphic arts skills to help me create it! Any volunteers?? I’m more than happy to provide a hand-drawn sketch.

  48. Attila Smith Says:

    “…[Steven Weinberg] could go wherever the hell he wanted…”. Really ? I’d love to see him apply to King Saud University or Karachi University, or a few hundred similar places. Why not discuss these exciting potential moves during your next dinner with him ?

  49. Greg Says:

    This might not be the place to ask this, but how would the grad admissions committee feel about an Australian PureMath(hons)/CS graduate with a postgrad knowledge of complexity theory, computability, model theory, set theory, etc (almost none of which are active areas of research at all anywhere in Aus 🙁 ) but a shaky transcript?

    I had resolved to just retreat to lick my wounds and come back when I’m 30-something, but this sounds like such an appealing opportunity that I couldn’t help but ask.

  50. Carey Says:

    > I once, for example, thought about the Religious Right as
    > purely contemptible, deserving only unthinking snark, and
    > I was completely wrong. Even when I was right on the
    > underlying issues, I was wrong on the epistemology.

    Well on you. I grew up as fundamentalist as they come on this continent, and nothing is as tiresome as the “fundamentalists are incapable of intellectual honesty” line of argument. It’s so much less work (not to mention more fun) to poke fun at people than it is to engage with them and possibly even change their minds.

  51. John Sidles Says:

    In appreciating Futurama‘s alternative Texas universe (of Bill Kaminsky’s comment #41), don’t overlook that universe’s poetic masterwork, The Cowboy Hávamál. And I for one welcome our new high-plains cultural avatars!

  52. Dave Says:

    Congrats! I’d encourage you to create some sort of QC Visitor’s Center / Museum as part of the new establishment. There could be guided tours and a gift shop with witty t-shirts.

  53. Scott Says:

    Greg #49: It’s pretty much impossible to say without seeing your application, but:

    (1) Apply! My advice is always to apply broadly, to any program that you think might interest you. I’m always gobsmacked when I meet people who only applied to one or two programs—it’s the precise academic equivalent of considering yourself undateable because you’ve only asked out one person in your entire life and they said no.

    (2) In general, people who read PhD applications (myself included) will be looking for evidence that you can do original research. So, it’s nothing at all like applying for undergrad admission (at least in the US); it’s not a matter of checking off bureaucratic boxes but of finding the best candidates for a job. Thus: a “C” in theory of computation is a serious problem, whereas a “C” in political science no one really cares about. If your school didn’t offer theory of computation, but you made the most of whatever it did offer (discrete math, etc.), that’s great, whereas if your school had great TCS opportunities that you failed to avail yourself of, that’s a concern. And in any case, much more important than formal academics is any actual research experience that you have (or if not that, maybe practical experience in software development, etc.), and the recommendation letters that resulted from that attesting to your brilliance and creativity.

  54. Scott Says:

    Attila #48: It’s funny, my first draft of this post actually said that Weinberg could go wherever the hell he wanted, except of course for Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or places like that (or presumably North Korea, though that has little to do with Weinberg being a Jewish Zionist). But then I reflected that, if I really wanted the list to be complete, I should add that Weinberg also probably couldn’t choose to live under the ocean, or in the earth’s core, or on Neptune. So it seemed better just to say that he could live wherever the hell he wanted, and trust readers to understand what I meant.

  55. domenico Says:

    A quantum leap in a leap year.

  56. GASARCH Says:

    In 2012 41% of Texans voted for Barak Obama and 58% for
    Romney (I assume the rest were various third and fourth and..
    party candidates)

    Calling Texas `A Red state’ is true, but no state is monolithic.

    Your post alludes to your changing your mind about the religous right (though I assume you still disagree with them).
    What caused that?

    Career- sounds like a GREAT move for BOTH of you as they have strong complexity and strong quantum.

    Family- sounds great for Lily and hypothetical future kids!

  57. Scott Says:

    Rick Mayforth #32: Thanks for the welcome! Let me set aside our disagreement on climate change, since that will take over the entire thread if I allow it to and I’ve debated it many other places on this blog. Instead I’ll take up the (to me) more interesting question of general liberalism vs. conservatism.

    After so much of the social-justice left was so vicious to me a year ago—after they reacted to my polite attempt to carve out some tiny space within their worldview for the problems of shy male nerds, as if I were a counterrevolutionary traitor who needed to be exiled to the labor camps—while many on the anti-PC Right came to my defense, I confess that I asked myself whether it was time simply to “come out as a conservative.” A “conservative” who happens to disagree with the conservative positions on climate change, gun control, voter ID laws, endangered species, corporate taxes, and most other issues, but who’d been banished by his fellow liberals.

    But then I watch the Republican primary debates. And I see the current leaders of three different factions of American conservatism—Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump—each vying to be the most cringe-inducing parody of himself (Trump is winning). And I think: well, if that’s what “conservatism” is, at least that makes it easier for me; I can be absolutely certain that I’m against that, even if Amanda Marcotte is also against it and I’m against her! And it’s a free country, and I’m allowed simply to continue being a capital-L enlightenment Liberal, someone who’s generally left-wing by American standards, right-wing by the standards of academia, but really just tries to consider each question on the merits and to change his mind when wrong.

  58. Ivy Says:

    Those of us in California are envious of the Texas academic support program and commitment to academic excellence.

  59. fred Says:

    Exciting news, Scott!

  60. dunboyir Says:

    here’s a logo sketch :

  61. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #38:

      That’s an awful lot of research hours that were rudely stolen by internet trolls and their drama. Since you realize that it didn’t really matter, does this mean you will stop feeding the trolls?

    I hope and wish so! I like to imagine what would happen if (for example) Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg felt the moral obligation to read every mean thing any commenter ever said about them in any online forum—to stop and carefully consider whether, beneath the bile and expletives and factual errors, there might be a grain of valid critique that would make them a better person if they took it to heart. Of course, they’d never do anything else in life. So, had they started out like that, they’d never even be in a position to be attacked in the first place.

    So, there’s a part of me that wants to care about online trolls as little as Gates or Zuckerberg must care about them. But then there’s another part that’s scared of turning into the kind of person who doesn’t care—into a smooth, self-confident politician rather than the neurotic nerd I’ve always been. Because it feels to me like the aspect of my makeup that wants to argue with every single person everywhere on earth who doesn’t like me—however pointless and counterproductive that might be—until we reach some sort of common understanding, is inseparable from the aspect that wants to pursue some weird technical point, like how the complexity class C/qpoly could properly contain D/qpoly even though D properly contains C, all the way to the bottom rather than just shrugging and accepting it. And that the latter quality is responsible for everything scientifically worthwhile I’ve done.

  62. Scott Says:

    bigjon #35:

      Do you know why Weinberg basically failed to do anything of note once he moved to Texas? Certainly nothing near what he achieved when he was at Berkeley and Harvard.

    I indeed can’t think of much Weinberg has done since age 50—besides, like, correctly predicting that our universe should have a nonzero cosmological constant, and writing many outstanding books and New York Review of Books pieces. I.e., what you or I only dream of having as the outputs of our entire careers.

    But it seems to me that a prerequisite question to yours is: among the physicists who did something in their 20s or 30s such as unifying two of the four known fundamental forces, what fraction did something else equally important in their middle or old age? Certainly, not Einstein, not Dirac, not Heisenberg. At any rate, I think we’d first need to know that “base rate,” before we could even begin to consider the differential effect of living in Cambridge, MA versus Austin, TX.

    Having said that—as I weighed where to go, it was indeed reassuring to me that the heat, indie music, Tex-Mex food, and whatever else there is in Austin don’t seem to have prevented David Zuckerman, Adam Klivans, Sasha Sherstov, and others from doing CS theory that I’m personally familiar with and consider to be first-rate.

  63. Scott Says:

    dunboyir #60: Thanks!! But between the horns should be a ψ and φ, not my likeness. 🙂 And I was thinking of a cartoon bull with eyes, nostrils, etc., not just a silhouette.

  64. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Scott #61: I hope not to be repeating the obvious, or minimizing the unpleasantness of being lambasted in public, but I think you are misunderstanding a basic point about trolls: they do not care about the subject (or person) being discussed, they just want to cause people to have an emotional reaction (offended, angry, sad, etc.), as they find it funny. Therefore, trying to engage with their arguments is an exercise in futility. Of course, the nontrivial part is determining who is a troll and who is a legitimate commenter.

    See for example this fictitious example of Newton being trolled:

    On a more pleasant subject, congratulations on your new position!

  65. Kevin S. Van Horn Says:

    Scott: “For I’ve increasingly come to the conviction that, while you might fail to find common ground with someone, you’ve got to try, you’ve got to steelman their argument and learn whatever you can from it.”

    I love that this notion of steelmanning is spreading; my opinion of you just went up another notch.

  66. Ian Says:

    Wow! What a change! All the best to you and your family with this new move.

    Just out of curiosity, did MIT make any sort of a counter-offer?

  67. Scott Says:

    Ian #66:

      Just out of curiosity, did MIT make any sort of a counter-offer?

    Sort of! But it was missing a key thing that Austin’s and several other places’ offers had: namely, tenure for both of us.

  68. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott #57. Pretty much agree. Here is my take:

    In the US, both Liberal and Conservative no longer have the positive aspects that they used to have. In brief:

    1. The title “Liberal” has been expanded to include what are traditionally called “Dingbats” and “Social Justice Warrors”, and

    2. The title “Conservative” has been expanded to include the traditional categories of “Dummy”, “Crazy”, and “Racist.”

  69. venky Says:

    Congrats! And please make sure to keep all your CS blogs and notes online. Their have helped me study more than you can ever imagine. You are now responsible for CS education around the globe, not just at MIT or UT! There is no replacement for your web presence.

  70. Siva Swaminathan Says:

    Congratulations, and welcome to Austin! I enjoyed your colloquium in the UT Physics department a few semesters ago, and am very happy to know that you’re headed to Austin. As a theoretical high-energy physicist interested in QI/QC, I look forward to dropping in on your lectures.

  71. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    “like how the complexity class C/qpoly could properly contain D/qpoly even though D properly contains C, ”

    Do you actually have examples of C and D which do this?

  72. Leonard Susskind Says:

    I’m delighted that you will be 1000 miles closer to Stanford. But what really want to know is whether it means the summer is getting any closer?


  73. Barbara Terhal Says:

    Congratulations Scott: good move.

  74. quax Says:

    Good luck 🙂

    Ballsy move.

  75. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, Anonymous #38:

      There are other ways to accelerate and enhance an education without just pushing them forward. Did the schools you talk to mention any of these?

    Yes, if you mention academic acceleration at almost any school, they’ll tell you that they won’t skip but will instead give a student “enhancements” within the same grade level. In practice, unfortunately, those “enhancements” might turn out to mean even more tedious make-work, exacerbating the problem rather than solving it!

    From my experience, I agree with you about the social and emotional difficulties of skipping. But I’d also say that those difficulties are mostly caused by the practice’s very rarity, rather than by anything intrinsic to it. And to whatever extent there is something intrinsically hard about skipping, I’d say it’s almost entirely dating-related, and probably tends to be much harder for boys like me than for girls like Lily. (At least, women who have skipped tell me as much.)

    In my case, the purpose of skipping was simple: namely, to get me out of an environment where (except for a few wonderful friends, some of whom remain friends today) I was generally bullied, hated, and miserable—and to get me as quickly as possible into an environment where at least I could spend my time doing things I cared about, like math and CS, and be surrounded by other people who also cared about those things. Skipping achieved that for me, so I’d do it again in a microsecond, despite all the emotional problems that it might have exacerbated or prolonged. (After all, I was already at the bottom of the social totem pole before skipping, so had nowhere to go but up! 🙂 )

    To be clear, I don’t want to steer Lily, or any future children we have, in a particular direction based on ideology or extrapolation from my and Dana’s own strange cases. (Though the details were very different, involving the Open University in Israel, Dana finished her undergrad even earlier than I did, at 17.) I just want to help my kids pursue whichever path is right for them. But my experience does suggest to me that, if a school is willing to accelerate a student, despite all the education authorities warning against it, then there’s probably something fundamentally right about that school—something in it that values actual knowledge, like Paul Erdös did with his epsilons, that recognizes the impatience of those afflicted with the thirst for knowledge, that isn’t purely about following rules and producing more rule-followers.

  76. jonas Says:

    Scott #75: But… isn’t it actually the rarity of skipping grades that makes it work well? If lots of people skipped grades, then if you skipped grades, you’d be surrounded by other people who skipped grades, and would have a curriculum and teachers adjusted to young people who have skipped grades, so the higher grade would work very similar as the lower grade works now.

  77. Scott Says:

    jonas #76: By “skipping being commonplace,” I simply mean that students could sign up for any course that interested them and that they could show they were intellectually ready for, and could advance at whatever pace was right for them. Their biological age wouldn’t even enter into it, any more than it does in college. So, like in college, the typical course might have a spread of ages at least a few years wide, even though (ideally) the students would all be about equally prepared intellectually for whatever course they were taking. This would be great, I think, for the social comfort of students at either extreme of the age distribution.

  78. Timothy Johnson Says:

    “I once, for example, thought about the Religious Right as purely contemptible, deserving only unthinking snark, and I was completely wrong.”

    Have you written about this before? What changed your mind?

  79. Jr Says:


    I think you have a mostly sensible take on the gun control thing. Guns, and people with guns, are somewhat dangerous to be sure, but the fear the Steven Weinberg expressed of some student being so enraged in class by what he is saying that he just snaps and shoots him seems overblown. There have been a number of university shootings in the US of course, but banning guns locally at UT does not diminish that risk appreciably, I think.

  80. Abel Says:

    Just sharing a great personal experience with skipping since the topic came up – I got along better with the other kids since they were more mature, and I didn’t feel academically stressed out or pushed forward or anything remotely like that since the school stuff was still mostly trivial.

    Also, what Scott says at #77 makes a lot of sense.

  81. Ian Says:


    Scott #67: Thanks for your response! It is hard for outsiders like myself to imagine how any cost-benefit analysis MIT might have done could come out on the side of “it will cost too much to keep Aaronson here, so we have to let him go.” You are a proven resource in multiple domains, and clearly significantly valued by many communities.

    Any thoughts on how the cost could possibly have come out higher than the benefit? Is agreement to grant tenure really that politically charged?

  82. tinduck Says:

    Congratulations! Welcome to the South! The state of Texas is lucky to have you. Austin sounds like a great place to live.

  83. John Sidles Says:

    Bigjon’s comment (#35) is associated to lore among theorists that jumping to “Big State University” is a risky career move. Prominent examples include Julian Schwinger’s move from Harvard to UCLA, and Alexander Grothendieck’s move from the IHS to Montpellier.

    At the time of his early death, John von Neumann too was negotiating a move from the IAS to the University of California system — we’ll never know how that would have turned out.

    The ratio (total endowment)/(total students) is a measure of how great the change in academic culture can be, in jumping to a state university. Wikipedia’s numbers are:

    Boston  (13.47 G$)/(11,319) = 1.190 M$
    Austin  ( 3.27 G$)/(51,313) = 0.063 M$

    That’s a nineteen-to-one relative shift in per-student endowment. Needless to say, at the level of college deans and university presidents, these contrasting endowment ratios necessitate YUGE contrasts in institutional development strategies. Not necessarily for the worse!

    A modest proposal  It’s interesting to contemplate a world in which (say) five percent of all young people received STEM degrees at four-year institutions endowed at the 1 M$ level. Crunching the numbers, the required global endowment is ~25 T$ (that is, 25 quadrillion dollars).

    Resolved for purposes of debate  A 21st century global commitment of 25 T$ toward STEM educational endowments would make good sense, both socially and economically.

    Conclusion  Perhaps academic STEM culture underestimates its own global value? Perhaps STEM faculty commonly think too small, about the enduring global value of STEM academia?

  84. asdf Says:

    I thought Boston had some good magnet schools like Boston Latin (alma mater of The Great Quux). Do they use lottery admission? Anyway you know more than I do.

    I’m male and skipped a couple grades and it was a good thing in all regards.

    Regarding those 18yo IDF girls with the huge-ass machine guns, Scott might like “The 188th Crybaby Brigade” by Joel Chasnoff, a funny-only-serious book about the year he spent in an IDF tank batallion.

    Norbert Wiener’s autobiography “Ex-Prodigy” (that’s the first volume) comes to mind from a different direction.

  85. Michael Says:

    As a Texan and UT alumni, I am proud to see my school branch out into a growing and exciting field. I’m also a huge fan of your blog/writing and am glad to see you come to Texas. Don’t stop confronting stupidity!

  86. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    I love all the comments that Scott so diligently makes in these posts but comments like are to die for.

  87. Scott Says:

    Timothy #78: For 20 years or so, I thought of the Religious Right as (1) believing in scientific absurdities and (2) using those absurdities to prop up a system for denying people basic rights and implementing terrible public policy, up to and including the destruction of the planet. Not only is there nothing to like in that, there’s not even any basis for dialogue.

    So what changed? It was neither a specific incident nor a real change in my object-level views, so much as simply getting older, and becoming increasingly conscious that there’s nothing in the political or social world that’s not susceptible to “ironic reversals.” Reading Scott Alexander’s blog certainly accelerated that insight.

    As one example, if you’re worried about the worst religious right on earth—i.e., the one that stones gays, beheads infidels, kidnaps women to use as sex slaves, celebrates the murder of Jews, and plausibly boasts about demographically taking over the world in the long run—then one of the supreme ironies of our time is that the American religious right is more of an ally to you than the modern social-justice left is. (The parts of the left that are actually consistent in opposing religious fundamentalism—exemplified by Richard Dawkins and Maryam Namazie—are also the parts that get denounced every nanosecond by the social-justice left.)

    As a second example, suppose you’re a shy, intellectual, nerdy straight male who feels alienated by the dating mores of the modern world. Who would you choose for an ally:

    (a) people with the bizarre belief that the earth is 6,000 years old, but who share your dissatisfaction with modern dating mores; see you as a sweet, well-meaning person who deserves to be happy; and just hope your studies of the natural world will eventually lead you to God; or

    (b) people who know the age of the earth but despise you for existing, and will do everything in their power to shame you as a misogynist monster if you ever breathe a word about your life experience?

    To clarify, I’m no friend of the religious right. If anything, I suspect I’m a more effective opponent of them, now that I understand their appeal, because there’s some tiny part of me that’s actually felt their appeal.

    But there’s no getting around it: given what I’ve gone through, the idea of, let’s say, President Rick Santorum terrifies me much less than the idea of President Amanda Marcotte. There’s probably some limit to what President Santorum would do just to make everyone like me suffer!

    (Note: please don’t ask me whether I’d be more terrified of President Marcotte or President Trump.)

  88. Silas Barta Says:

    Best wishes on your transition! But dagnabbit, why’d you’d have to move to Central Texas *after* I moved out? 😛

  89. Nilima Says:

    Congratulations! Here’s wishing all three of you a grand new adventure.

    A salutary side-effect of moving departments a few years ago was the thorough cleaning-out of my book shelves. I found a bunch of notes with half-baked ideas for projects that I’d forgotten. Also, a picture of me and some grad school friends drinking beer. For that alone, the move was worth it.

  90. Kenneth W. Regan Says:

    Congratulations on the new positions (spin up) and all the best on the transition.

  91. Joshua Zelinsky Says:


    “President Rick Santorum terrifies me much less than the idea of President Amanda Marcotte.”

    It may be worth noting that one of these was actually an elected Senator of the US who actually showed signs of being the candidate for the Republican party, and the other is a columnist.

    The right-wing has given far more in the way of functional government power to the Santorums than the left has to the Marcottes.

  92. John Sidlesbot Says:

    The Alarming History of low-status citizens. Ouch. David Henderson and condensed matter physics, engineering, technology, and experimentally observed and/or paste the oracle can reveal that assertion in the roadmaps will respectfully disagree with the consequences will occur when it most horrendous forms.

    Scott says: The NIH Campus, and quantum state-space of artificial pressure on further add the HGP.

    Scott *expand* his view, there is noise. In any talks about eugenics, torture not an outstanding complexity theory. From the fifth postulate (if need be) an exemplary of quantum information … in the difference between fundamental research in TCS Stack Exchange? Here “younger” means, we assume that the problematic metaphysics only an equivalent

    IMHO it’s *got* to sell-out to the Kahler manifolds a.k.a. matrix elements of the other hand, I’m told, is any two.

  93. Scott Says:

    Joshua #91: That’s a fair point. It’s worth noting, however, that Marcotte was a major figure in John Edwards’ presidential campaign, until she was eventually let go—not, interestingly, for anything directly related to her hateful/distorted version of feminism, but for mocking Christianity, for example by referring to Jesus as “Jeebus.”

  94. Austin Eric Says:

    Welcome to Austin! You’re going to love it here.

    Ignore the hipsters and other snooty elitists of the “Don’t Move Here” movement. Most of them weren’t born here anyway. As a transplant myself, property taxes have precluded any such guilt.

    And watch out for the aggressive bicyclists.

    Enchanted Rock is great for trail running and camping. Hamilton Pool will amaze the kids.


  95. AdamT Says:

    Great to hear and all the best Scott!

  96. AdamT Says:


    Since we are talking politics, I am an independent because I also have problems with both the blue and red tribes. Problems including the social justice reactionary wing of the blue, and the anti-science of the red and the foreign policy of both who never met a foreign problem they feel killing the right people didn’t solve.

    My ideal policy prescription for America would look like:

    1) A national basic income for *everyone*
    2) Nationalized medicine like the British
    3) A VAT tax to replace the income tax and much of the tax code
    4) Get rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, Welfare, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance, the IRS, and many more for #1, #2, #3 above
    5) Publicly funded, instant run-off elections
    6) Funding for the arts, science, the military
    7) Carbon tax roled into #3 above

    Whaddya think?

  97. asdf Says:

    Maybe the new quantum computing center could find some way to use complex-valued probability to help these guys:

    GOP Statisticians Develop New Branch Of Math To Formulate Scenarios In Which Trump Doesn’t Win Nomination

  98. Helmut Says:

    Texas A&M says hello… While not a QC person per se, I would move to Austin any time…

  99. Someone Says:

    Hi! i´m a long time lurker of your blog.

    Some time ago you helped me to give a paper to a colleague of you in the MIT. I forgot to thank you for that. Thank you!

    I hope that you aren´t moving away from MIT just because you watched the paper and thought it was so bad that you thought: “i´m going to escape just so that this guy doesn´t use me as some kind of postman” 😉

    Good luck wherever you go

    Sorry for my bad english

  100. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Helmut #98:

    Me, too!

    But on the second thoughts, isn’t Austin in the US? …. Ummm… No. … Certainly no.


  101. Sumwan Says:

    Hello Scott, we laypersons are in immediate need of your comment on the article: “Realization of a scalable Shor algorithm” in Science 🙂 It is all over the media. To my uneducated eyes, it seems they are making quite a strong claim that they did implement a scalable quantum algorithm to solve factoring, and the only thing that prevents them from cracking RSA is the lack of resources, a mere constant-factor issue. Is this really what they are claiming and did they really do it ? if it is so, I am surprised at the relatively tame headlines, if it was proven that quantum computing could break RSA in practice with a polynomial amount of resources, I would expect headlines like “Huge Quantum Breakthrough”, “Quantum computer exponentially outperforms classical computers”.

  102. Mike Says:


    I think this is fairly old news:

  103. Scott Says:

    Sumwan #101: A good rule of thumb is, if someone could factor RSA numbers with the QC currently available to them, then they would. A corollary is that there’s never any need to ask why someone only factored 15 or 21: in every case, the answer is that with their current technology, it’s too hard to factor larger numbers.

    In this case, I believe the paper (which was actually on the arXiv a year ago) has a significant advance: namely, it uses Shor’s algorithm to factor 15 without the need for “precompilation” (i.e., “using” your prior knowledge that 15=3×5 in various ways when designing the circuit), which was a sort of cheat that previous demonstrations had used. Of course, when you’re factoring 15, “scalable” isn’t a particularly well-defined notion—what does it even mean to “forget your knowledge that 15=3×5”??—but there are more and less honest Shor implementations, and this paper reports a very substantially more honest one.

    On the other hand, if you want to factor much larger numbers, there are still all the difficulties of integrating a huge number of qubits—which, in ion-trap implementations, would almost certainly mean having many traps that can communicate with each other using gate teleportation—as well as implementing quantum fault-tolerance (meaning: doing 2-qubit gates at the fault-tolerance threshold, moving qubits around to the right places, pumping in fresh qubits, pumping out dirty ones, etc). Those all remain major engineering problems for the future.

  104. Sumwan Says:

    @Mike: Yes, sorry, I hadn’t realized that. When looking at Google News, I just saw a number of news articles dated March 3 or March 4 referring to that paper, including this one:, so I assumed it was a new announcement.
    @Scott, thank you for your reply. Again, not being knowledgeable in QC, I more or less thought it possible that they proved your 100,000$ prize to disprove the possibility of scalable QC will never have to be paid. From your reply, I kind of understand that the odds haven’t changed much, perhaps they decreased by some epsilon.

  105. luca turin Says:

    WOW. Good for UT! Warmest congratulations to both of you! And please don’t let your new responsibilities make you neglect your blog. MIT will sorely miss you.

  106. Helmut Says:

    You write “Today, it’s hard to find much quantum computing research within a 400-mile radius of Austin, TX.” I did not know College Station is more than 400 miles away from Austin…

  107. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    By the way Scott, is there a chance you could comment on which is I think talking about ?

  108. ks Says:

    Congratulations on the move Professor!

  109. Scott Says:

    Helmut #106: Sorry about that!!! As it happens, I actually edited that comment out previously, when someone else reminded me about you and the other fine people at Texas A&M. But then the update didn’t get recorded (it only appeared to), because WordPress and my Internet access were horrible. I.e., it remained there even though I thought it was gone. Hopefully it’s gone for good now.

    Anyway, please accept my sincere apologies. I’ll be extremely happy to visit you at College Station once I’m there, and hope you’ll visit us at UT.

  110. Linus Hamilton Says:

    Congrats, Scott… but oh no! I applied to MIT for grad school this fall. What am I going to do now??

  111. Vaughan Pratt Says:

    Belated congratulations on your move, Scott. Based on Austin’s January high of 63 °F vs. Boston’s 36 °F, and global warming increasing at 3 °F per century, you’d have had to outlive Methuselah for global warming to have the same effect as your move. 😉

    @Sumwan: The big news is that Monz et al’s old arXiv paper has (provably) survived peer review by appearing in this week’s Science.

    Scalability is a relative notion. For example R.I. Freidzon showed in 1968 that pattern matching in real time when both pattern and text were given was impossible for a multitape Turing machine. In 1969 Yuri Matiyasevich showed that if the alphabet was {0,1} then that problem became possible for a Turing machine with a two-dimensional tape. Thus Yuri could have said he’d made pattern matching scalable, at least with respect to length of inputs if not size of alphabet.

    For Monz et al the best I could tell from the paper’s supplementary material was that “scalable” meant that the process they used of decoupling and recoupling “spectator qubits” was linear in the problem size. The MIT press release you cited would appear to have translated this to mean that RSA was now approaching its best-by date, although the paper itself makes no such claim.

  112. Scott Says:

    Linus #110: Sorry about that! But even with me and Dana gone, MIT might still be a decent place for grad school, so I wouldn’t write it off entirely. 😀

  113. venky Says:

    You and Amanda Marcotte could consider leading a panel discussion at SXSW. My guess is that a lot of people will want to listen, for race gender sexuality is an enormous issue in tech and music industries. There is something about a live conversation that cannot be replicated via parallel blogging.

  114. Scott Says:

    venky #113: I’d happily do that with Laurie Penny (indeed, she and I did have a nice conversation at the MIT Graduate Women’s Reading Group), or with any other feminist activist interested in exchanging ideas in a spirit of mutual respect. But not with Marcotte.

  115. John Sidles Says:

    Scott happily welcomes discourse with any “feminist activist interested in exchanging ideas in a spirit of mutual respect.”

    Doesn’t that class of people encompass the overwhelming majority of feminist activists — by almost any reasonable definition of “feminist activist”?

    When we consult Wikipedia’s list of women’s organizations, don’t pretty much all of these organizations advocate discourse founded upon “mutual respect”?

    My own observation, in a family that includes plenty of feminist activists, is that a commitment to feminist activism commonly requires giving a lot more respect than one receives.

    And this is true of lots of activities. Hmmm … is peer review any different?

    So why all the rancor? The poet, feminist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou suggests one answer:

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    Angelou’s own life and works show us very plainly that a capacity to look beyond personal feelings is essential to pretty much all forms of enlightened progress. Because (lets face it) the processes of enlightenment commonly are painful. Still, we mustn’t let that stop us.

  116. I. J. Kennedy Says:

    Scott, now that you’ve gotten a taste of Marcotte and the SJW legions, I think you should revisit the case Walter Lewin. With eyes wide open, I believe you’ll see things differently. I realize you don’t know him very well, but I wish you could arrange to meet with him before you leave town and find out how he is doing, and hear his side of the ordeal. From reading your blog I can tell life experiences have opened up your already-open mind even more. You might very well find yourself flabbergasted how differently you see things.

  117. venky Says:

    I agree with Commenter #115. Though I have only mostly read your expository writings on Rossers trick and common knowledge and other subjects, I think of you as a person for whom holding a rancor is not easy (I know several people dead and alive who revel in holding rancor, and their writings, while brilliant, have a hardness that your writing doesn’t. Eg Shakespeare is a person I want to read but Cervantes, whose insights easily rival Shakespeare, has such a generous writing style that I feel he is a person I want to meet). Meeting her and listening to her will indeed free you as Angelou and commentator #115 say.

  118. Scott Says:

    Venky #117: Well, there’s no actual offer from her to meet, so there’s nothing for me to decide! If, hypothetically, there were an offer, then I suppose it would depend on whether it was attached to any sign of contrition for her ad-hominem abuse, which wasn’t provoked by anything even remotely comparable on my part.

    Like, try to think about this with the sexes reversed: would anyone argue with a straight face that a woman needs to “free herself” by listening further to a man who had cruelly harassed her on a public platform, showed zero remorse for it, and hadn’t even offered any sort of dialogue?

    I confess that I’m emboldened in this stance by talking to many feminists who told me (alas, in private—I only wish in public!) that they consider Marcotte to be a discredit to their entire movement, and want nothing to do with her brand of vitriol. So then why not discuss with those feminists (as I have and will), rather than with Marcotte? If you wanted to reach out to (say) the African-American or Jewish communities, would you pick Louis Farakkhan or Meir Kahane as the representative to talk to? Wouldn’t that be an implied insult to all other African-Americans and Jews?

  119. venky Says:

    I agree that she may not adequately represent the best of a group, and for the same reason I am sure you have turned down many a CS conference invitation, in light of your time constraints. I read Maya Angelous’s comment in #115 as meaning that Relationships are noncommutative; we can always free our rancor towards the other party, even if we have no hope of changing or meeting them (they could be dead or far away or we could have other pressing needs).

    I think of Maya Angelou as a amazing proof system. You know when you finally get a proof? It’s like an enormous Tetris block clearing, and huge chunks make sense, even though everyone has been telling you that same thing for a while. Every time I read her after some life event, I am like oh she is a genius.

  120. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Quantum. Crypto. Things happen. I blog. Says:

    […] Of course, as I’m sure the authors would acknowledge, the word “scalable” in their title admits multiple interpretations, rather like the word “possible.”  (It’s possible to buy strawberry Mentos, and it’s also possible to convert the Sun into computronium, but for different senses of “possible”!)  As I wrote in the comments section of my last post: […]

  121. Alan Says:

    Welcome to Austin.
    Your penchant for respectfully and intelligently questioning the world around you is going to help you fit right in.

    I had to chuckle while reading this post and it’s comments because it triggered a memory of an Austin day in the late 1980’s. I was working at a cafe on Manor Road and was a little star struck from waiting on two of my heroes on the same day. Steven Weinberg, who came in with colleagues for a late lunch and Madalyn Murray O’Hair who had just finished dining with her son. Each of these Austinites was challenging the status quo in their own way. Even though I only served them their food, I felt that Austin was some sort of nexus and that I was connected to it’s power.
    I hope that you and your family grow to love this free thinking city as I do. If I ever see you over on Manor Road, I’ll buy you a cold margarita.

  122. Scott Says:

    Alan #121: Thanks so much! I just encountered a reddit thread with someone who seems less than thrilled about my arrival (because I’d like to buy a house there that extravagantly costs about the same as my current house). So I’m delighted there are also those who would welcome me! Shoot me an email if you’d like to meet in a less chancy way (or is chancy the way it’s done in Austin?).

  123. Alan Says:

    Scott #122
    Yes – I’ll send you an invite to our next happy hour. Just ignore Reddit’s /r/Austin . That site is notorious for its inhospitable comments, but it’s really just our way of keeping the cranky people occupied at home so they don’t bother us out in the real world.

  124. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » A postdoc post Says:

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  125. Psmith Says:

    @Jr #81 (and possibly of general interest), Colorado has had campus carry since 2003, Michigan since 2010 or so, and as far as I can tell nobody cared at the time and nothing bad has happened since. If it weren’t for Weinberg, I don’t think anybody would care about Texas either.

  126. Richard Says:

    I have just one request: make sure you see (and * study * ) the film “Road Trip” before you make the big move.*

    * N.B. I * guarantee * you’ll have a much more * entertaining * conception of the difference between Boston and Austin if you do!

  127. Richard Says:

    P.S. And that’s * nothing * compared to how much more entertaining a conception you will have of the difference between “Boston” and “Austin”!

  128. Andrew M Farrell Says:

    I moved from Boston to Austin a year and a half ago and am going to actually be leaving here for a job in London in a couple months. Do you want any furniture?

  129. Scott Says:

    Andrew #128: Yes, possibly—thanks for the offer! What do you have? We’ll be moving there in early August.

  130. Doug K Says:

    congratulations Scott and Dana !
    You solved the two-body problem 😉

    I had the same qualms as Anonymous #38, but Scott #75 is an interesting perspective. As a grade-jumper myself, my experience with it was not positive: stayed bullied and miserable throughout school, but now physically smaller than my cohort so less able to fight back, boo.

    On the other hand our younger son got the ‘enhancement’ approach in the early years, which indeed turned out just to be more tedious make-work and not useful. Per Scott #77 however – his high school now has a range of ages in the math and CS classes, based on ability rather than school year. The more advanced students take classes at a nearby community college, to keep them interested. The school is full of nerds and geeks, so my son is at last among our tribe, though now academically behind due to other issues. Oy.

    Another aspect to steelmanning the argument is to put yourself emotionally in their place, as well as rationally.
    “Creationism’s a way of thinking ‘I am not worthless’ at a time when people were being told and shown they were.”
    Vardy, for China Mieville, in Kraken.
    Or as our priest says, pray for your enemies daily..

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  132. Bill Jefferys Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I just ran across this page which is why I’m commenting so much later than most.

    I retired from the UT Astronomy Department a decade ago and moved to New England (the opposite direction of your move). We liked Austin a lot, but it’s the only place in Texas where I would want to live.

    I’m pretty sure that the Astrophysics lunch is still going on on Fridays. Steve Weinberg was one of its faithful members and I urge you to take advantage of that as Steve was one of the reasons you decided to make the jump from Cambridge to Austin.

    Thanks for noting Steve’s principled opposition to the awful concealed carry law that the legislature passed. My wife and I were watching TV in my brand-new parents-in-law’s home 50 years ago when, on August 1, the news of Charles Whitman’s shooting spree from the UT Tower came on Walter Cronkite’s news broadcast. My new father-in-law turned to me and asked, “Is that where you are taking my daughter?” All I could say was “Gulp!” It is beyond offensive that the new law is taking effect on the 50th anniversary of that unfortunate event. I wish Steve success in this attempt to keep guns out of the classroom.

    I miss Johnny Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt, neither of whom is still with us. But Bryce’s wife Cecile is still in Austin…we write to her every year.

    You will definitely want to seek cooler weather in July and August. We always did, returning to New England where both of our families hung out. But the rest of the year in Austin is quite nice as far as temperature goes.

    Enjoy the music! Austin City Limits and SXSW are treasures to enjoy.

    Both of our children graduated from the Austin science magnet high school, which opened just about the time they were ready for it. Our second child also went to the Kealing science academy (it wasn’t open in time for number one child). Generally the Austin Independent School District is quite good.

    And do visit McDonald Observatory, in West Texas, from time to time. They are doing some exciting things out there!

    Best wishes in this new venture! Bill