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Monday, September 29, 2003

One-Way Functions

What is a one-way function, intuitively a function that is easy to compute and hard to invert? Taking this intuitive idea to a formal definition has yield two quite different meanings, sometimes causing confusion.

The first directly tries to translate the intuition. A function f is one-way if

  1. f is 1-1 (so an inverse is unique),
  2. f is length increasing (so the output of the inverse function is not too large),
  3. f is computable in polynomial time, and
  4. there is no polynomial-time computable g such that for all x, g(f(x))=x.
This is a nice clean definition that fulfills the intuition but is not that useful for cryptography, since f could be easily invertible on all but a small number of inputs, or with stronger adversaries. To handle these issues we have a different looking definition.

A function f is r(n)-secure one-way if

  1. There is a function l(n)≥n such that f maps strings of length n to strings of length l(n),
  2. f is computable in polynomial time, and
  3. for all probabilistic polynomial-time algorithms A, the probability that f(A(f(x)))=f(x) is at most r(n) where the probability is taken over x chosen uniformly from the strings of length n and the random coins used by A.
There are many variations on both definitions and a considerable amount of theory devoted to each. Grollmann and Selman show that one-way functions of the first kind exist if and only if P ≠ UP. On the other hand Håstad, Impagliazzo, Levin and Luby show that from any one-way function of the second kind, one can create a pseudorandom generator.

At one point I tried using complexity-theoretic one-way functions and cryptographic one-way functions to distinguish the two, but this only caused confusion. So we have to live with the fact that we have these two definitions with the same name and we'll have to just use context to figure out which definition is appropriate. If you give a talk or write a paper about one-way functions, it never hurts to distinguish which version you are talking about.

Friday, September 26, 2003

A Speech and A Weblog

UCLA Professor Andrew Kahng gave this wonderful speech to the incoming computer science graduate students. While designed for UCLA, with minor changes it applies to every research institution. Every graduate student or anyone interested in graduate school should read it.

Michael Nielsen, coauthor of my favorite book on quantum computing, has his own weblog. Worth checking out.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Proof, The Movie

We just got email that Proof, a movie adapted from the play, will be filmed in and around the University of Chicago campus over the next few weeks. I saw the play a couple of years ago in New York, a powerful story about an aging mathematician and his daughter. Given the cast, director and source material I would expect great things from the film version as well, and it certainly should best out the last movie I remember them filming here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Turing, The Novel

Christos Papadimitriou has been exercising his creative talents. He has a new book Turing (A Novel about Computation) building a love story around some of Turing's lectures. He is now working on Logicomix, computer science in comic book form. I can imagine it now, our hero NP-Man and his trusty sidekick P-Girl battle the evil Execution Time.

Monday, September 22, 2003

The Buzz

There has been some buzz about the paper Resource Bounded Unprovability of Computational Lower Bounds by Tatsuaki Okamoto and Ryo Kashima. They claim to show that no polynomial-time machine can produce a proof of a super-polynomial-time lower bound for NP and as a consequence there is no proof that P≠NP in any reasonable proof system such as Peano Arithmetic. The first part I don't really understand but the latter would be a major breakthrough.

But don't get too excited. I have heard from multiple sources that Razborov has found serious problems in their paper, in particular that Theorem 22 is just false. So as one complexity theorist put it, "This is probably not the most important paper on your stack."

Friday, September 12, 2003

Creative Commons

In a conversation I had last week, a professor planned to use slides from lecture notes he found on the web in his own slides. He planned to give attribution to the original producers of the slides but did he need to contact them beforehand for permission. Technically yes, material put on the web is copyrighted by default. But if he sent them email most responses would be of the form, "Please don't waste my time!"

To deal with this issue, Creative Commons has a nice service giving an easy way to release some rights for online material. So I've added a link on the left column of the web log that basically allows you to modify and distribute the material in this weblog for noncommercial use with attribution. No need to ask me, not that anyone has.

On another note, I'm on vacation next week and off the internet. Back after that.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Balanced NP Sets

Last week I posed the following question:

(1) Exhibit an NP-complete language L, such that for all lengths n≥1, L contains exactly half (2n-1) of the strings of length n.

This question was posed by Ryan O'Donnell and solved by Boaz Barak. Here is a proof sketch.

By using standard padding and encoding tools, (1) is equivalent to

(2) There is an NP-complete language L and a polynomial-time computable function f such that for every n, there are exactly f(n) strings in L of length n.

First we show how to achieve (2) if we replace "strings" with "total witnesses." Consider pair of formulas φ and ¬φ. The total number of satisfying assignments between them total 2n if the have n variables. We just create an encoding that puts φ and ¬φ at the same length. The total number of witnesses at that length is equal to 2n times the number of formula pairs encoded at that length.

We now prove (2) by creating a language L that encodes the following at the same length for each φ

  1. φ, where φ is satisfiable.
  2. (φ,w) where w is a satisfying assignment for φ and there is another satisfying assignment u<w for φ.
You can check that the language is NP-complete and the total number of strings in L for each φ is just the number of satisfying assignments of φ.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Is P versus NP formally independent?

As promised back in March, the October 2003 BEATCS Complexity Column is on whether we can truly settle the P versus NP question. Scott Aaronson gives quite an interesting survey on this topic.

Monday, September 08, 2003

STOC 2004

I have received some requests for the call for papers for STOC 2004 which will be held in Chicago. Maybe it is because I gave the presentation for STOC 2004 at the 2003 business meeting, or because if you google 'STOC 2004' this weblog comes up in the list, or just because I'm in Chicago now, but I am not officially connected to STOC 2004.

Having said that, here is the tentative call for papers.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Institute of Advanced Study

The Institute will be quite a complexity powerhouse this year. In addition to IAS fixtures Wigderson and Razborov, visiting are Russell Impagliazzo, Manindra Agrawal (with his students Kayal and Saxena at Princeton) and postdocs Boaz Barak, Subhash Khot, Ryan O'Donnell and Nate Segerland. These are just the ones I met yesterday during a short visit several weeks before their semester officially begins. We'll expect great things from them.

Here is a question we thought about yesterday, posed by Ryan O'Donnell and ultimately settled by Boaz Barak:

Exhibit an NP-complete language L, such that for all lengths n≥1, L contains exactly half (2n-1) of the strings of length n.

Think about it. I'll post the proof next week.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Scheduling Research

A colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless, likes to schedule time for research, a certain set block of time during the day where he puts off all his todo's and concentrates on science. Sounds good but often his chair will stop by for some discussion or an impromptu meeting. The colleague will say, "Sorry, but I reserved this time for research", but that argument didn't fly, the chair said he could do research anytime. One day he said instead, "Sorry I have a squash game" and the chair replied that they would talk at a future time. Welcome to the academic world, where research gets trumped by a meeting that itself can be trumped by a squash game.

Is scheduling time for research a good idea? It depends on your personality and your research style. If you find yourself with no time to think about an interesting problem because too much else is happening then yes, best to schedule a few hours where you promise yourself you will do nothing else but research during those times. This means more than not preparing for class but also ignoring your computer. Checking email and surfing the web are themselves great time sinks.

In my case, I find it difficult to just start thinking about research at a given time. So I use the rule that research trumps all and when inspiration hits me, or someone comes to my office with a research question, I drop everything I can to work on the problem. Okay, I can't skip a class for research but email, weblog posts, referee reports, etc., should never stand in the way of science.