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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The PCP Theorem

This week I started teaching the PCP theorem: Every language in NP has a proof that can be probabilistically checked with only O(log n) random coins and a constant number of queries. One graduate student asked me which came first, the PCP theorem or the connection to hardness of approximation. That seemed like a strange question; after all why would so much effort be put into reducing parameters like number of random coins or queries unless there was some application behind it. But then again, so much emphasis is now in the literature on these parameters that he probably thought these were always the parameters people cared about the most.

To put the record straight: Feige, Goldwasser, Lovász, Safra and Szegedy made the connection between the interactive proof literature and approximation. Arora and Safra showed the importance of reducing random coins and queries and proved a weaker version of the PCP theorem. The theorem in the above form was proved by Arora, Lund, Motwani, Sudan and Szegedy.

I have been teaching off the notes of Madhu Sudan from a short course he taught on the PCP theorem. The notes don't go through every detail, but they give one of the better expositions of what is still quite a complex proof.

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