Sunday, February 26, 2017

Should we learn from the Masters or the Pupils (Sequel)

A while back I had a blog entry Should we learn from the Masters of the Pupils? The Masters may have more insights but he Pupils may have a better view aided by a modern viewpoint.

Sometimes the Masters are in a different language or not in the modern style but you still want to know what they did and why. As I blogged about earlier (See  here) Villarino/Gasarch/Regan have a paper which explains Hilbert's Proof of Hilbert's Irreducibility Theorem (see) Tao has a paper on Szemeredi's Proof of Szemeredi's Theorem (on Tao's webpage: here). Villarino has a paper on Merten's Proof of Merten's Theorem (here).

Mark Villarino read that blog entry (good to know someone did!) and then presented me with MANY examples where the MASTER is worth reading, which I present to you.  For all of them reading a well written exposition of what the Master did would also be good (as good? better?) if such exists.
Here is his letter with a few of my comments.

I would suggest the following examples where the original teaches and illuminates more than the modern slick version:

1.  Euclid's proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (and its converse).  Indeed, once you understand the diagram, the proof is immediate and beautiful. See here.

2.  Gauss' first proof (by induction) of quadratic reciprocity.  If you REALLY read it, you see how Gauss was led to the proof by numerous specific examples and it is quite natural.  It is a marvelous example of how numerical examples inspired the structure of the induction proof. (BILL COMMENT:  Here is a Masters Thesis in Math that has the proof and lots of context and other proofs of QR: here)

3.  Gauss' first proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra.  The real and imaginary parts of the polynomial must vanish simultaneously.  However the graph of each is a curve in the plane, and so the two curves must intersect at some point.  Gauss explicitly finds a circle which contains the parts of the two curves which intersect in the roots of the polynomial.  The proof of the existence of a point of intersection is quite clever and natural, although moderns might quibble.  In an appendix he gives a numerical example (BILL COMMENT- Sketch of the first proof of FTOA that I ever saw: First show that the complex numbers C and the punctured plane C- {(0,0)} have different fundamental groups (The fund group of C is trivial, the fund group of C-{(0,0)} is Z,the integers.) Hence there can't be an X-morphism from C to C-{(0,0)} (I forget which X it is). If there is a poly p in C[x] with no roots in C then the map x --> 1/p(x) is an X-morphism. Contradiction. Slick but not clear what it has to to with polynomials. A far cry from the motivated proof by Gauss.)

4.  Abel's proof, in Crelle's Journal, of the impossibility of solving a quintic  equation by radicals.  Abel explores the properties that a "formula" for the root any algebraic equation must have, for example that if you replace any of its radicals by a conjugate radical, the new formula must also identically satisfy the equation, in order to deduce that the formula cannot exist  Yes, it has a few correctable errors, but the idea is quite natural. (BILL's COMMENT- proof- sounds easier than what I learned, and more natural. There is an exposition in English here. I have to read this since I became a math major just to find out why there is no quintic equation.)

5. Jordan's proof of the Jordan curve theorem.  His idea is to go from the theorem for polygons to then approximate the curve by a polygon and carry the proof over to the curve by a suitable limiting process. See here for a paper on Jordan's proof of the Jordan Curve theorem.

6. Godel's 1948 paper on his rotating universe solution to the Einstein Field Equations.  Although his universe doesn't allow the red-shift, it DOES allow time travel!  The paper is elegant, easy to read, and should be read (in my opinion) by any mathematics student. 

7. Einstein's two papers on special/general relativity. There are english translations.  They are both elegantly written and are much better than the later "simplifications" by text-book writers.  I was amazed at how natural his ideas are and how clearly and simply they are presented in the papers. English Translation here

8.  Lagrange's Analytical Mechanics.  There is now an english translation.  What can I say?  It is beautiful.  Available in English here.

9. I add "Merten's proof of Merten's theorem" to the list of natural instructive original proofs.  His strategy is quite natural and the details are analytical fireworks. (BILL COMMENT- as mentioned above there is an exposition in English of Merten's proof.)

I could go on, but these are some standouts.

BILL COMMENT: So, readers, feel free to ad to this list!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ken Arrow and Oscars Voting

Kenneth Arrow, the Nobel Prize winning economist known for his work on social choice and general equilibrium, passed away Tuesday at the age of 95.

I can't cover Arrow's broad influential work in this blog post even if I were an economist but I would like to talk about Ken Arrow's perhaps best known work, his impossibility theorem for voting schemes. If you have at least three candidates, there is no perfect voting method.

Suppose a group of voters give their full rankings of three candidates, say "La La Land", "Moonlight" and "Manchester by the Sea" and you have some mechanism that aggregates these votes and chooses a winner.

Now suppose we want a mechanism to have two fairness properties (for every pair of movies):
  • If every voter prefers "Moonlight" to "La La Land" then the winner should not be "La La Land". 
  • If the winner is "Moonlight" and some voters change their ordering between "La La Land" and "Manchester by the Sea" then "Moonlight" is still the winner (independence of irrelevant alternatives).
Here's one mechanism that fills these properties: We throw out every ballot except Emma Watson's and whichever movie she chooses wins.

Arrow shows these are the only mechanisms that fulfill the properties: There is no non-dictatorial voting system that has the fairness properties above.

Most proofs of Arrow's theorem are combinatorial in nature. In 2002 Gil Kalai gave a clever proof based on Boolean Fourier analysis. Noam Nisan goes over this proof in a 2009 blog post.

Arrow's theorem that no system is perfect doesn't mean that some systems aren't better than others. The Oscars use a reasonably good system known as Single Transferable Voting. Here is a short version updated from a 2016 article.
For the past 83 years, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has been responsible for tallying the votes, and again this year partners Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan head up the operation. The process of counting votes for Best Picture isn't as simple as one might think. According to Cullinan, each voter is asked to rank the nine nominated films 1-9, one being their top choice. After determining which film garnered the least number of votes, PWC employees take that title out of contention and look to see which movie each of those voters selected as their second favorite. That redistribution process continues until there are only two films remaining. The one with the biggest pile wins. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that who has the most number one votes from the beginning is ensured they win," he added. "It’s not necessarily the case, because going through this process of preferential voting, it could be that the one who started in the lead, doesn’t finish in the lead."
Another article explicitly asks about strategic voting.
So if you’re a big fan of “Moonlight” but you’re scared that “La La Land” could win, you can help your cause by ranking “Moonlight” first and “La La Land” ninth, right?
Wrong. That won’t do a damn thing to help your cause. Once you rank “Moonlight” first, your vote will go in the “Moonlight” stack and stay there unless “Moonlight” is eliminated from contention. Nothing else on your ballot matters as long as your film still has a chance to win. There is absolutely no strategic reason to rank your film’s biggest rival last, unless you honestly think it’s the worst of the nominees.
Arrow's theorem says there must be a scenario where you can act strategically. It might make sense for this fan to put "Fences" as their first choice to potentially knock out "La La Land" in an early round. A similar situation knocked out Chicago from hosting the 2016 Olympics.

Maybe the Oscars should just let Emma Watson choose the winner.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The benefits of Recreational Mathematics

Why study Recreational Mathematics?

Why do recreational Mathematics?

1)  The line between recreational and serious mathematics is thin. Some of the problems in so-called recreational math are harder than they look.

2) Inspiring. Both Lance and I were inspired by books by Martin Gardner, Ray Smullyan, Brian Hayes, and others.

3) Pedagogical: Understanding Godel's Inc. theorem via the Liar's paradox (Ray S has popularized that approach) is a nice way to teach the theorem to the layperson (and even to non-laypeople).

4) Rec math can be the starting point for so-called serious math. The Konigsberg bridge problem was the starting point for graph theory,  The fault diagnosis problem is a generalization of the Truth Tellers and Normals Problem. See here for a nice paper by Blecher on the ``recreational'' problem of given N people of which over half are truth tellers and the rest are normals, asking questions of the type ``is that guy a normal'' to determine whose who. See here for my writeup of  the algorithm for a slightly more general problem. See William Hurwoods Thesis: here for a review of the Fault Diagnosis Literature which includes Blecher's paper.

I am sure there are many other examples and I invite the readers to write of them in the comments.

5) Rec math can be used to inspire HS students who don't quite have enough background to do so-called serious mathematics.

This post is a bit odd since I cannot imagine a serious counter-argument; however, if you disagree, leave an intelligent thoughtful comment with a contrary point of view.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Liberatus Wins at Poker

Tuomas Sandholm (center) and Ph.D. student Noam Brown (via CMU)
Congratulations to Liberatus the new poker champ. Liberatus, an AI program, beat several top-ranked players in heads-up (two player) no-limit Texas hold 'em.

For those unfamiliar with Texas hold 'em
Two cards, known as the hole cards or hold cards, are dealt face down to each player, and then five community cards are dealt face up in three stages. The stages consist of a series of three cards ("the flop"), later an additional single card ("the turn") and a final card ("the river"). Each player seeks the best five card poker hand from the combination of the community cards and their own hole cards. Players have betting options to check, call, raise or fold. Rounds of betting take place before the flop is dealt, and after each subsequent deal.
Unlike the computers that defeated the best humans in chess, Jeopardy and go, Liberatus comes directly from academia, from Tuomas Sandholm and his student Noam Brown at Carnegie-Mellon.

Unlike chess and go, poker is a game of incomplete information in many forms.
  • Information both players have: the community cards already played.
  • Information only one player has: the hole card
  • Information neither player has: the community cards yet to be played.
Betting in poker plays the primary role of raising the stakes but betting can also signal what hole cards you have. Players can bluff (betting large amounts without a corresponding strong hand), trying to cause other players to misread the signal. There is no perfect play in poker, just a mixed equilibrium though we still don't know how to compute the equilibrium and even if we could we might deviate from the equilibrium to gain an advantage. Deviating also make you vulnerable.

All of this makes poker a far more complicated game for computers to tackle. But through persistence and new tools in machine learning, Sandholm and Brown have found success.

If history holds up, it won't be long before we have champion-caliber poker apps on our phones. Will we see cheating like has been happening in chess? Will online poker sites just disappear?

What is the next great game to fall to computers? I'm guessing NASCAR. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Raymond Smullyan: Logician, Recreational math writer, Philosopher, passed away

Raymond Smullyan was born on May 25 1919 and passed away recently at the age of 97.  He was a logician (PhD from Princeton under Alonzo Church in 1959) who did serious,  recreational, and philosophical work. I doubt he invented the truth-teller/liar/normals and knight/knave/Knormal  problems, but he popularized them and (I suspect) pushed them further than anyone before him.

He was active all of his life:

His last book on Logic Puzzles, The Magic Garden of George B and other Logic Puzzles was published in 2015. Wikipedia lists 14 books on logical puzzles, from 1978 untl 2015.

His last book classified (on Wikipedia) as Philosophy/Memoir, A Mixed Bag: Jokes, Riddles, Puzzles, and Memorabilia was published in 2016. Wikipedia lists 8 books in this category, from 1977 until 2016.

His last Academica book, A beginners further guide to mathematical logic was published in 2016. (It was a sequel to his 2014 A beginners guide to mathematical logic.) Wikipedia lists 8 books in this category, from 1961 to 2016.

Recreational Work:

His recreational work was of the Knights/Knaves/Knormals/Sane/Insane/ variety.a

Knights always tell the truth.

Knaves always lie,

Knormals may tell the truth or lie.

Insane people only believe false things,

Sane people only believe true things.

He also added a complication: a species that says ALPHA and BETA for YES and NO but
you don't know which of ALPHA, BETA means YES and which one means NO.

Note that a truth teller Insane Knight will answer YES to 1+1=3.

He invented  (discovered?) the so called hardest logic puzzle ever. He wrote many books on recreational math. We mention four of them that show the line between recreational and serious mathematics is thin.

To Mock a Mockingbird. This book has logic puzzles based on combinatory logic. Is that really recreational?

Forever Undecided. This book introduces the layperson to Godel's theorem.

Logical Labyrinths. This is a textbook for a serious logic course that uses puzzles to teach somewhat serious logic. It was published in 2009 when he was only 89 years old.

A Personal Note: I read the following, from his
The Lady or the Tiger, when I was in high school, and I still don't know the answer!:

My brother told me he would fool me on April Fools Day. I lay awake that night wondering how he would fool me. All day I was worried how he would fool me. At midnight I asked him Hey, you said you would fool me but you didn't He replied April Fools!. To this day I don't know if I was fooled or not.

Serious Math Work. His serious work included the Double Recursion Theorem.  (you can write two programs that know both their indices and each others indices) and other theorem in logic. (ADDED LATER: Lipton and Regan have a blog post with lots of great information about Ray S's serious math work here.)

Philosophy. I'm not qualified to comment on this; however, it looks like he did incorporate his knowledge of logic.

Looking over his books and these points it seems odd to classify his books as the recreational books had some serious logic in them, and the academic books had some math that a layperson could understand

I think its rarer now to do both recreational and serious mathematics, though I welcome intelligent debate on this point.

Before he died, was he the oldest living mathematician? No- Richard Guy is 100 years old. wikipedia claims that Guy is still an active math Guy. Is he the oldest living mathematican? The oldest living active mathematician? It was hard to find out on the web so I ask you.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Dichotomy Conjecture

Arash Rafiey, Jeff Kinne and Tomás Feder settle the Feder-Vardi dichotomy conjecture in their paper Dichotomy for Digraph Homomorphism Problems. Jeff Kinne is my academic grandchild--how quickly they grow up.

Keep in mind the usual caveat that this work has not yet been fully refereed and vetted by the community, though there is no reason to think it won't be (though some skepticism in the comments).

A homomorphism from a graph G = (V,E) to H=(V',E') is a function f:V→V' such that if (u,v) is in E then (f(u),f(v)) is in E'. For a fixed graph H, define L(H) as the set of graphs G such that there is a homomorphism from G to H.

If H is just a single edge then L(H) is the set of bipartite graphs. If H is a triangle then L(H) is the set of 3-colorable graphs. If H has a self-loop then L(H) is the set of all graphs.

L(H) is always in NP by guessing the homomorphism. In 1990 Pavol Hell and Jaroslav Nešetřil showed the following dichotomy result: If H is bipartite or has a self-loop then L(H) is computable in polynomial-time, otherwise L(H) is NP-complete. There are no undirected graphs H such that L(H) is not in P or NP-complete.

In 1998 Tomás Feder and Moshe Vardi conjectured that even for all directed graphs H, L(H)  is either in P or NP-complete. Rafiey, Kinney and Feder settle the conjecture by showing a polynomial-time algorithm for a certain class of digraphs H.

Details in the paper. The authors recommend first watching their videos below though I would suggest reading at least the introduction of the paper before tackling the videos.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Hardness of Reals Hierarchy

In my last post (here) I defined the following hierarchy (which I am sure is not original- if someone has a source please leave a comment on it)

Z_d[x] is the set of polys of degree d over Z (the integers)

ALG_d is the set of roots of these polys.

ALG_1 = Q (The rationals)

Given a real alpha I think of its complexity as being the least d such that alpha is in ALG_d. This is perhaps a hierarchy of hardness of reals (though there are an uncountable number of reals that are NOT in any ALG_d.)

I then said something like



But is that obvious?

``Clearly''  2^{1/d} is not in ALG_{d-1}. And this is not a trick- YES 2^{1/d} is NOT in ALG_{d-1} But how would you prove that. My first thought was `I'll just use Galois theory' And I am sure I could dust off my Galois theory notes (I had the course in 1978 so the notes are VERY dusty) and prove it. But is there an elementary proof. A proof a High School Student could understand.

How to find out? Ask a bright high school student to prove it! Actually I asked a Freshman Math Major who is very good, Erik Metz. I thought he would find a proof, I would post about it asking if it was known, and I would get comments telling me that OF COURSE its known but not give me a reference (have I become cynical from  years of blogging. Yes.)

But that's not what happened. Erik had a book Problems from the Book by Dospinescu and Andreescu that has in it a lovely elementary proof (it uses Linear Algebra) that 2^{1/d} is NOT in ALG_{d-1}.

Hence the hardness of reals hierarchy is proper. For a write up of just the proof that
7^{1/3} is not in ALG_2 (which has most of the ideas) see this writeup

Thursday, February 02, 2017

We Are All Iranians

A solidarity rally held at Georgia Tech today
There are ten Iranian members of my department, the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech, all of whom face a very uncertain future in America. Luckily none of them were outside the US when the executive order was signed last Friday.

We have nine Iranian Ph.D. students. It was already difficult for them to leave the US and return and with the new executive order essentially impossible, even for family emergencies. One expressed disappointment “Why did we even bother to come to the United States to study?”

We also have a young Iranian professor, a very successful computer architect and my first hire as chair, in the final stage before getting his green card now on hold. If things don’t change he and his wife may be forced to leave the country they now call home. That would be a huge loss for Georgia Tech and the United States.

This is not the America I believe in.