A postdoc post

I apologize that this announcement is late in this year’s hiring season, but here goes.  I’m seeking postdocs in computational complexity and/or quantum information science to join me at UT Austin starting in Fall of 2016.  As I mentioned before, there’s a wonderful CS theory group at UT that you can work with and benefit from, including Adam Klivans, David Zuckerman, Anna Gal, Vijaya Ramachandran, Brent Waters, Eric Price, Greg Plaxton, and of course my wife Dana Moshkovitz, who will be joining UT as well.  If you’re interested, please email me a CV and a short cover letter, and ask your PhD adviser and one or two others to email me recommendation letters.  The postdoc would be for two years by default.

    Update (March 26): If you want to be considered for next year, please get your application to me by March 31st.

    Another Update: I’m very honored, along with fourteen others, to have received a 2016 US National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship (NSSEFF), which supports unclassified basic research related in some way to DoD interests. My project is called “Paths to Quantum Supremacy.” Now that my Waterman award has basically been spent down, this is where much of the funding for quantum computing initiatives at UT Austin will come from for the next five years.

33 Responses to “A postdoc post”

  1. J.R. Says:

    Hi Scott,

    It sounds like your QC Program @ UT is going to be pretty exciting. I had kind of a tangential question. Let’s say Napier was working in the trade today. Do you think someone with his approach would survive in today’s research climate? I see all these images of our NASA scientists around Gene Kranz, and I can’t help to think that in all of their pockets sits a little analog doohicky that Napier made (I mean I feel he had it in his head). And my understanding is that this guy just spent 20 years hand-jammin’ the scales out.

    So I’m wonderin’, how do the fields of mathematics and computer scientists feel about positivist approaches to rigor and discovery? They’re a bunch a nut-jobs, right?

    …or was William Blake correct? A man who persists in his folly becomes wise?

    Thanks for the blog. I’m so glad there’s more to life than the Kardashians.

  2. Scott Says:

    J.R. #1: So your question is, how would Napier fare in today’s research environment? That’s hard to answer.

    On the one hand, I can imagine scientists the world over exclaiming, “dude, you INVENTED LOGARITHMS? Respekt!” They’d be almost as awed by that as by the fact that a guy from the 1500s was somehow alive today.

    On the second hand, things like log(ab)=log(a)+log(b) are not exactly cutting-edge research. Napier would need to up his game if he still wanted to do science, rather than accepting a sinecure giving lectures to science historians about “my life in logs.”

    On the third hand, someone with Napier’s inborn creativity combined with modern training could probably do well in a variety of fields. And I’m not at all confident that every concept as basic to math as the logarithm has already been discovered. (Example: the concept of the “bit” is less than 70 years old.)

  3. J.R. Says:

    Hi Scott,

    About 8 years ago and a week after I had just left a talk in New London, CT, I asked my step-father what he wish he had known about life when he was younger that he knew now. He said, “Cycles.” My role models were Dick Winters, Chuck Yeager, and Mae Jemison. If you think about cycles, do you think we’ll be saying the same thing about Einstein in 400 years?

    I mean if you use projection geometry (of sorts) in your argument, projecting out from where logarithms are basic to infinity, at some point they could be arbitrarily indistinguishable from Euler. If P were to equal NP or if that is a little too played out, if the probability that P were equal to NP were not 0, then that could act as that point of infinity. Conversely, if P were not equal to NP that, too, could be projected out at infinity. The difference between the two conjectures would be that at one infinity Euler and Napier are indistinguishable (as you say, if you can appreciate a symphony, you are Mozart), whereas in the other, the extremities, or the identity remains (although good luck finding an efficient way to define it). Now, we use to have a problem with geometries having non-integer dimensions, but it’s so obvious now ;-). Does the identity have a dimension (I mean assuming the existence of 1 may be a great assumption, a very useful one, but does it render it not a testable assumption – Halting I know…)? To me that is where my appreciation for cycles began. Extend this question to anything in history…That Romeo Dallaire should have upped his game. Emanuel Ringelblum should have upped his game…etc. If P!=NP, then the way that people go about what they do must be identified by its relation to the environment in which those things were done (among other things), and where does that end?

    This may seem to be a little too abstract, so I’ll try to put a bow on it with two questions:

    1. In this psychopathic cat experiment that Schroedinger thought up, if we were to replace the radioactive decay doohicky with just a coin tosser such that:

    (Heads) The cat lives; the observer is a psychopath
    (Tails) The observer is a psychopathic murderer

    Then I think I have it right that if we opened up the box and the cat were dead and the coin was lying there Tails, Schroedinger would be like, “Yep. Makes total sense.” I think if he were to then place another poor cat in that box, and psychopathically repeated the experiment, opened up the box and saw a coin heads and a cat running out of the box, he’d be like, “Yep. Makes total sense,” as well. Now, let’s say Shroedinger, being who he was, put that poor cat back in the box, repeated aforementioned horror, checked the box, saw heads and a cat running out, and repeated aforementioned conclusion. This is where I have a problem and where my question comes in.

    What if the coin tosser was just broken after the second toss, and failed to flip the coin again? Or what if on the first toss, the cat, because it’s a smart cat, knew what was going to happen and had a heart attack before the coin even tossed? Or what if the cat had a slight case of pulmonic stenosis and combined with the nervous tension around a guy like Schroedinger and his cats and being placed in a dark box where some of your buddies never come out alive caused him to go into cardiac arrest? Or what if, ad infinitum? You might say you would check for everything but in doing so there’d never really be anything random going on, the more and more x’s you accounted for, unless you just want to assume that the cat randomly lived or died. My question is, is that a useful assumption.

    2. Let’s say (A) P!=NP and (B) P=NP. Let’s say something like 93% of mathematicians hold (A) and 7% of mathematicians hold (B)…and of those 7%, some were only holding the line for the noble sake of being contrarian; I don’t know if anyone asked the question of conformity of the 93%, so for the sake of arguments, let’s just say it’s 93:7. My question is this:

    Is (B) -assume Napier’s approach- more hubris, or is (double-secret probation) option (C) basing the security, operations, and well-being/ existence of a species on one side of an argument that had yet to be resolved on the calculation that 93 is much larger than 7, while actively pursuing legislation to force (B) true by law, while simultaneously funding the 93 feverishly and making pariahs out of the 7 more hubris? My background, was J22 (red-team) and J84 (financial logistics) in the military. Math is always political because truth is power.

    Final thought. There’s this dinner party that your wife is really excited about, and she has been invited to it by some members of high society. This is important because clothes were invented for the occasion, a dao of fashion and circumstance if you will. But, at the last minute, she finds out that her arch-rival is going to the party and has spent a considerable deal more time planning and preparing (more notice being the implication). She was not 5 minutes before so excited and definitely going to go, but now you ask, “Are you not going to go?” To which she responds, “Well, I’m not not going to go.” I can use that logic recursively (which is why Goedel and Turing might have been…a little incomplete on there assertions of negation as it pertains to the Halting issue; that’s all the wife is saying).

    Thanks for entertaining my train of thought. I don’t care what happens in projection, I am still grateful that I have the sensation of believing that the greats, including you, are indeed great. But there’s a zen in high-impedence, and that’s useful too.

  4. John Preskill Says:

    Regarding “respekt” for Napier, there is a (presumably apocryphal) story told in E. T. Bell’s book “Men of Mathematics.” When John Napier first met Henry Briggs (who had computed the first table of logarithms after Napier’s invention) Briggs and Napier were so overwhelmed with admiration for one another that neither could speak for “almost one quarter or an hour.”

  5. J.R. Says:

    That’s the thing about the internet. When I met Hank Aaron at a Red-Lobster with the rest of my little league team in the late 80’s, it was so cool to get his autograph. Still, Scott and John, y’all know how to make a guy’s day. Thank you.

  6. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott #2:

    There might well be important basic things undiscovered yet.

    I am sure there are tons of useful basic things undiscovered all over in the STEM areas, even in math. This is particularly true in areas where it is only now feasible to do calculations, so that Euler, Gauss, etc., didn’t already figure out all the important stuff. (Actually, Gauss often did anyway, such as the FFT).

    I have lately been working in representation, and propagation in calculations, of uncertainty in models, data, etc. There are a lot of results involving basic approaches to well defined problems, but little or nothing about issues that emerge when you try to look at the big picture.

    This might not be good career advice, but I want to suggest to young scientists the possibility of studying a lot of subjects and to discover stuff off the main highways, and try to figure out part of the big picture.

  7. John Sidles Says:

    Scott says “I’m not at all confident that every concept as basic to math as the logarithm has already been discovered. …”

    Raoul Ohio (#2) says: “I am sure there are tons of useful basic things undiscovered all over in the STEM areas, even in math. …”

    A pair of essays that ringingly affirm Scott and Raoul’s perspective, by Nobelists Edward Mills Purcell and Felix Bloch (yes, that Bloch), appear as the “Preface” and opening chapter “The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance” of the two-volume historical survey Magnetic Resonance Imaging (1988, excerpts here).

    The following passage conveys the main themes of Purcell and Bloch’s essays:

    It is nearly 400 years since the practice of medicine and the study of magnetism were combined in the career of Sir William Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth I, president of the Royal Colleague of Physicians, and author of De Magnete [De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure, 1600], one of the great scientific treatises our civilization has produced.

    By 1950, plus or minus a year or two, the basic physics that underlies NMR imaging was for practical purposes completely understood. … Yet with all this knowledge ready to apply, the realization of medically useful MRI images lay more than 20 years in the future. What essential ingredients were lacking?

    For one thing, sensitivity. … The key was computer power, and the great advance in signal-processing techniques that became feasible as computer power and speed grew by their own powers of ten. … NMR imaging could hardly have been developed to its present state, no matter how well established its base in modern physics, without the modern computer.

    But something even more essential was lacking in 1950: the idea that a useful interior image was in principle obtainable, and was a goal worth pursuing. …

    My own confident expectation is that clinical experience (accumulating at a rate that for a while may seem exponential) and empirical testing in the 10-Tesla range (which ought to be part of a systematic long-term program) will eventually prove beyond question that the extension of William Gilbert’s ‘orb of virtue’ into the human body is in the deepest sense benign.

    Needless to say, even today, new capabilities of NMR imaging are still accumulating, as Purcell foresaw, “at a rate that seems exponential”. Long may this medical progress be sustained! 🙂

    Hmmmm … upon what new ideas “as basic to math as the logarithm” has this progress been founded? And can the continued appearance of ideas be reasonably anticipated in coming decades?

    Since WWII we can identify as simple-yet-fundamental advances:

    • The Cooley-Tukey fast fourier transform algorithm.
    • Ken Wilson’s renormalization group
       (see John Preskill’s remarks on Ken Wilson)
    • The stochastic calculus of Ito and Stratonovich
    • Carmichael’s unraveled dynamics of open quantum systems
    • Algebraic varieties as dynamical state-spaces
    • Duality in statistical mechanics and field theory

    Doubtless other simple-yet-fundamental recent math advances will occur to Shtetl Optimized readers.

    Purcell’s deep question  What is meant when we say (or hope) that a STEM-advance is (in Purcell’s phrase) “in the deepest sense benign”?

    Although opinions may differ (and should differ), it seems to me that the advances in quantum information theory that Shtetl Optimized has so justly celebrated for the past several years, indeed have been benign in this deepest sense. Long may this quantum research tradition be sustained! 🙂

    A double-barrelled conclusion  Scott’s new postdocs can be wholly confident of participating in continued advances in quantum information theory that are both “as basic to math as the logarithm” (in Scott’s phrase) and “in the deepest sense benign” (in Purcell’s phrase).

    Who could ask for more?

  8. John Sidles Says:

    Corrigenda  The intended link (in #7) is to John Preskill’s beautiful Quantum Frontiers encomium “We are all Wilsonians now” (June 18, 2013, Google finds it). Also, the quoted Ed Purcell essay is not a “Preface” but a “Foreword”.

  9. Raoul Ohio Says:

    John, thanks for the pointer to Ken Wilson. I had met Ken in his later work on reforming math and science education in schools (a task for those much tougher than me).

    The following about Ken Wilson, from “Not even wrong”, is very interesting, particularly the replies. Check it out:


  10. John Sidles Says:

    Thank you, Raoul, for the further references on Ken Wilson (I had not known that Ken Wilson was a raised Quaker).

    A reference that describes Wilson’s high-school days at George School (a Quaker institution) is his lab partner Peggy McIntosh’s article “Gender Perspectives on Educating for Global Citizenship” (2004, Google finds it).

    It turns out, too, that Mario Capecchi (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2007) attended that same George School science class, four years after Wilson.

    So that was one terrific high-school science teacher! 🙂


    In further regard (#2), a recent mathematical discovery that is (plausibly) “as basic to math as the logarithm” is the idea of perfect simulation (sometimes called “perfect sampling” or “coupling from the past”).

    The arxiv server supples plenty of preprint-examples, and see also Mark Huber’s textbook Perfect Simulation (2015).

    The relevance of perfect simulation to the ongoing STEAM-race between quantum supremacists and algorithm supremacists arises as follows. We suppose that quantum supremacists are able to (no doubt ingeniously) prove that exact BosonSampling collapses the Polynomial Hierarchy.

    In riposte, the algorithm supremacists model the open quantum system dynamics associated to BosonSampling experiments as a Markov Chain — i.e., as an unraveled unitary Hamiltonian flow, plus a stochastic Lindblad flow, as driven by finite-state classical controller/clock that ‘triggers’ successive detection attempts — and we suppose furthermore that the algorithm supremacists (no doubt ingeniously) are able to code their Markov Chain as a perfect simulation of realistic BosonSampling experiments.

    A natural question  If we assume that exact simulations of BosonSampling collapse the Polynomial Hierarchy, does it rigorously follow that perfect simulations of BosonSampling collapse the Polynomial Hierarchy too? Or are the definitions of “exact” and “perfect” sufficiently different (at some fine-grained level) that no contradiction need arise?

    Conclusion  Now that quantum supremacists are using phrases like “exact simulation” in their articles, and algorithm supremacists are using phrases like “perfect simulation” in their articles, it’s a presumably a prudent idea for everyone to study their STEAM-dictionaries mighty carefully.

    In any event, the ongoing flow of new ideas like “perfect simulation” promises to create plenty of exciting research opportunities for the coming generation of STEAM-workers, both quantum and otherwise! 🙂

  11. J.R. Says:

    John Sidles, what do you make of the slide-rule as a perfect simulation? I think the problem is that quantum physicists and computer scientists have an incomplete definition of “random.” I look at random and not random as a launch point for an analog simulation for negated behavior. It’s not random but it’s not not random.

    An incomplete statistical definition of random is the problem (and why so many argue Turing was complete on his argument of negation regarding the Halting problem). If a negator says the machine is not stuck when it is stuck, or it says it is stuck when it is not stuck, this is a problem for logic. But what of it is not not stuck? Let’s say the machine is stuck (0) or not stuck (1). All negated behaviors (k) can be described in the following manner:

    The mapping of these outcomes to the real numbers between 0 and 1 inclusive are given by recursion:

    M[1; the base case] = 1-4*abs(P(observed) – 1/2)
    M[k] = 1-2*abs(M[k-1])

    So any seemingly logical inconsistencies do disappear. For instance, if I ask the question will the machine get stuck (0), then if the machine gets stuck then machine’s negator says it could be because the behavior is not-not certain or not-not-random or not-not-…-not(k) random.

    It just seems to me that the math being used are incomplete.

    Please tell me if this somehow is wrong, I would love to know. The simulation here folds (Napier’s scaled).

  12. John SIdles Says:

    John Sidles “What do you make of the slide-rule as a perfect simulation?”

    The simplest example (that occurs to me anyway) of a “perfect simulation” is John von Neumann’s celebrated algorithm for simulating a perfectly fair coin-flip using biased coin-flips.

    The point  The quality of “perfection” resides entirely in the ingenuity of von Neumann’s algorithm, not in the axioms of probability or in their subtle philosophical interpretations.

    This pragmatic notion of “perfection” is characteristic of the entire literature on perfect simulation.

    Recommended reading  Microsoft researcher David Wilson maintains a vast “Web Site for Perfectly Random Sampling with Markov Chains” (Google finds it); this website links to dozens (hundreds?) of articles and textbooks that describe similarly “perfect” sampling algorithms.

    Practical perfectibility  “Almost perfect” sampling algorithms too are commonly encountered; these are algorithms that have (in David Wilson’s phrase) “some bias ε that the user can make as small as desired.” Recent preprints associated to sampling algorithms that aspire to “almost-perfection” are “A positive tensor network approach for simulating open quantum many-body systems” (2015, arXiv:1412.5746v2) and “Density functionals with the help of matrix product states” (2016, arXiv:1603.06565).

    Needless to say, these works acknowledge the considerable complexity-theoretic subtleties and challenges that are associated to “almost perfect” sampling algorithms: the former preprint self-admittedly tackles a class of problems that formally is QMA-hard, the latter self-admittedly tackles a class of problems that formally is #P-hard.

  13. J.R. Says:

    Oh my Gosh! John, I did not know what you did for a trade. Thank you. I am very grateful for what you do for us veterans. I promise to read more. Thank you.


  14. amy Says:

    J.R. #3:

    (notwithstanding the vivid catbox fantasy, raises eyebrow in the direction of the sexism inherent in your last scenario, what with lady comp-sci profs being all up in the high-society fashion-war madness with arch-rivals, meow.)

    (note to self: prescribe better fiction to the grad students)

  15. J.R. Says:

    Hi John,

    I hope you are well. If you like Von Neumann’s definition, I bet you $10 I can show you something better than his definition. Sounds like a win-win to me. Scott says he’s got guys reading P!=NP papers for $100 (I saw this in an interview with Scott); now Scott wants me to factor 5000 digit numbers with my algorithm. That’s not how I wrote it; I wrote it even more fundamental; it’s set up to find the optimal solution to minimax: as seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oXyibEgJr0. I am arguing that it would destroy this game described here. I’m pretty certain y’all reduced the problem in that video to 3SAT sometime in the 70’s. I could be wrong, but the algo which I am really concerned about because it would allow just about anyone to hack into Amy’s phone.

    Amy. I just happened to use a scenario with my wife for that last scenario; it actually happened. I’m sorry your life includes such a state that you need to anchor on a completely innocuous scenario that actually passed without much fanfare outside of a situation where I just asked her a question so that I could be there for her in that moment (and was greatful that I divined a very powerful logic that she was applying that we are not in the sciences), and I can assure you that no-one in the scenario felt offended, nor is it my intent to offend you with completely innocuous scenarios. In my society, my wife loves me and I love my wife, always, and we have real conversations like that include the one I mentioned; here, in Atlanta, we feel sorry that you are lonely, or at least that you come off as a lonely and angry person. Someone must have been very mean to you, and I am sorry. I am happy to talk about math with you if you like, but I am not a grad student so I may not know what you are talking about (I only know the stuff I have specifically spent all my money on researching). I am a special disabled Veteran of the Gulf War Era and I cannot afford to go to any more schooling than what I was able to do with the Montgomery G.I. Bill (I managed to get an M.S. in Finance).

    I respect females for being both female and my equal. I sure did serve with many, all of whom had my deepest respect. I acknowledge that women have the short end of the stick, but if one allows one to be shaped by that into a hammer then all things will appear as nails, and you don’t have to hit me to change my opinion. That’s what it means to be a man.

  16. John Sidles Says:

    J.R. says (#13) “I am very grateful for what you do for us veterans. I promise to read more.”

    J.R., any gratitude that you may feel to my STEAM-colleagues (or me) is eclipsed by the gratitude that any society properly owes to its veterans. So thank you for your service.

    Readings  At the top of my blog-comments, my name always links to the latest version of our “Green Sheet Seminar” notes; these notes include a stack of references that are basic to the quantum theory of atomic-resolution spin-imaging.

    Book-in-progress  My colleagues Rico Picone and Joe Garbini and I are expanding these seminar notes into a textbook on the quantum transport mechanisms that are the physical basis of spin imaging technologies. The writing proceeds rather slowly, but as fast as we can.

    J.R., comments like (#13) encourage us to write faster. And for this encouragement, we thank you very much.

    A further acknowledgement  Scott, your uniquely vigorous and outstandingly thoughtful essays here on Shtetl Optimized, together with the comments that the whole quantum community contributes, are plenty valuable and encouraging to every quantum researcher (including me). Moreover, the unflagging sustainment of your collegial commitment over many years is justly deserving of everyone’s appreciation and respect. So thank you for your service, Scott.

    Primary conclusion  Get those postdoc applications in the mail to Scott! 🙂


    PS to Amy (#14) Our Green Sheet Seminar’s reading list does include STEAM-fictions; the arc of these fiction spans:

    An ultra-utopian world  Kathleen Ann Goonan’s “Girl in Wave: Wave in Girl” (2014), as a prelude to reading …

    A world hors catégorie  Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon (2015), as a prelude to reading …

    An ultra-dystopian world (or is it?)  Carter Scholz’ Gypsy (2015).

    At the dystopian endpoint of this narrative arc, Scholz’ Gypsy is a parable that describes a dire 21st century in which our shared STEAM-narratives prove to be utterly deluded:

    I [Scholz’ chief engineer] thought it was the leaders, the nations, the corporations, the elites, who were out of touch, who didn’t understand the gravity of our situation. I believed in the sincerity of their stupid denials — of global warming, of resource depletion, of population pressure. I thought them stupid.

    But if you judge them by their actions instead of their rhetoric, you can see that they understood it perfectly and accepted the gravity of it very early. They simply gave it up as unfixable. Moved quite purposefully and at speed toward this dire world they foresaw, a world in which, to have the amenities even of a middle-class life — things like clean water, food, shelter, energy, transportation, medical care — you would need the wealth of a prince. You would need legal and military force to keep desperate others from seizing it.

    Seeing that, they moved to amass such wealth for themselves as quickly and ruthlessly as possible, with the full understanding that it hastened the day that they feared.

    Fictionally speaking, a crucial capacity that is associated to quantum research (a capacity that is a primary focus of the Green Sheet Seminar) is to help mitigate the economic, ecological, medical, and social forces that impel our world toward Scholz’ dystopian future — and to realize new capabilities (medical especially) that are foundational to Kathleen Goonan’s cheerful utopia — necessarily embracing Nnedi Okorafor-style transformations of individual and shared cognition along the way. Uhhhh … hopefully! 🙂

    Secondary conclusion  As Jason Nesmith / Commander Peter Quincy Taggart memorably reminds us in the comedic film Galaxy Quest (1999): “It’s all real.” Oh yes, it is.

  17. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    John #16:

    What exactly is it that compels you to write comments on this blog?

    And take such extraordinary care about those bold fonts and conclusions and all that?

    Come on, I am serious!

    As to me: Two things: (i) Scott writes too teasingly, (ii) he also venture(d/s) into Foundations of Physics—not his territory, really speaking. (I could have left him alone, but for the Official Stamp of Berkeley, and his kind of writing about QM—full of confidence, high on maths, low on physics, and never ever answering Roger Schlafly. Makes for an interesting cognitive contrast, regardless of the age difference. We are talking of knowledge here.)

    But I see you post replies, one day after another, always, all with your bolds and conclusions?

    What drives you? Serious, I am, here.

    Feel free to take this offline: you would know how to contact me for an offline thingie.

    I just can’t get around you oldie bow-wearing Americans. Especially if so bloody persistent.

    Let Scott declare he knows not about foundations of QM, and also that his intellect is such that he can’t (because it’s too mathematical), and I will leave this blog—complete with you—alone.

    But he goes the other way. That’s why I check out this blog of his. Complete with your package.

    I am exhausted with your daily twice/thrice “conclusions.”

    *I* conclude.

    Very sincerely yours, (and, as far as *foundations* of QM are concerned, Scott’s),


  18. Scott Says:

    John Sidles and Ajit [E&OE]: Can you please duke this out between yourselves, anywhere other than this blog?

  19. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, my response to Ajit has been posted to his weblog.

    Congratulations too on your DoD/NSEEG fellowship “Paths to Quantum Supremacy.”

    There is at least one reader of Schtetl Optimized who systematically and conscientiously maps innovative paths toward “quantum supremacy” onto innovative technologies in DoD-relevant neuroimaging (and vice versa).

    Obviously it’s not necessary that every reader appreciate this quantum research link; equally a significant opportunity would be missed if no researchers did. That’s why my survey article “Spin microscopy’s heritage, achievements, and prospects” (PNAS, 2009) concludes with an explicit acknowledgment

    This work is dedicated to the families of the Ceremony in Honor of Wounded Marines, 12 May 2006, Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, DC.

    My wife and I were General James Mattis’ guests of honor at this ceremony, which acted to significantly broaden the focus of my subsequent research efforts.

    Scott, it is reasonable to anticipate (or hope!) that your appreciation of the implications of “quantum supremacy” research will broaden as significantly in the coming years, as mine has in years past. Certainly there are plenty of veterans (and their families) who have ample reason to so hope!

  20. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Raoul Ohio, for one, finds (most of) John Sidles’s posts to be entertaining and informative. They are sometimes off-topic and I often don’t understand them, but they are in the style of a long tradition of scholarship that I view as most cool.

    I had not been aware of a John vs. Ajit duke-out. I don’t know much about Ajit, other than that he drops the name Schlafly. The Schlaflys are an interesting crew. Are they all related? Yikes!

  21. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Scott #18,


    But, hearty congrats for the fellowship anyway! A few other names seem familiar too.

    … If the fellowship is sufficiently open in terms of what all research you can cover, it means that you would write inter alia about foundations of quantum physics too, and therefore that I would have to continue checking out this blog.


  22. J.R. Says:

    I am a Buddhist (Soto sect). Seeing as there’s a discussion of argument going on, I thought I’d throw something in there. There’s this history of an argument in Zen that went for some 400 years, unresolved. It had to do with a flag waving in the wind. One side took that it was the wind moving the flag, whereas the other side held that the intent was in the flag; it moved the wind. Neither side could come up with a compelling argument as to why the other was wrong. Finally, it was solved by Zen Master Eno who stated, “It is the mind that moves.”

    This is the 29th Koan of the Gateless Gate, “Not the Wind, Not the Flag.” I’m telling y’all, there’s something to the type of negation they are talking about. It’s a deeper truth.

    If 0 and 1 are certainty, what’s not certainty? Random, 1/2. If something is not random and not certain, what is it? 1/4 or 3/4. If something is not certain, nor random, nor not-certain-nor-random, what is it? 1/8, 3/8, 5/8, 7/8. The numbers aren’t so much important as that all recursive negations map to real numbers and remain logically consistent. I am claiming this has implications on Goedel’s assertions of Incompleteness.

    Am I wrong (see also #3 & #11).

  23. Job Says:

    My project is called “Paths to Quantum Supremacy.”

    Is the main focus of your project to produce evidence of a quantum speedup? Or just quantum algorithms in general?

    With the focus on hardware, I sometimes forget that we can’t prove quantum supremacy through engineering alone, without the respective P != BQP result.

  24. Scott Says:

    Job #23: The point of this project is precisely to be at the interface between hardware and complexity theory. That is, the goal is to figure out how to get an asymptotic speedup over the best possible classical algorithms, for any task (not necessarily a useful one), that’s

    (a) as certain as possible (i.e., based on the weakest possible complexity assumptions), and

    (b) achievable using the most readily available hardware (i.e., hopefully not a full fault-tolerant universal QC).

    Of course, we’ll also be interested in the possible tradeoffs between (a) and (b).

  25. asdf Says:

    Hey Scott, congrats on the fellowship. Does it support just you, or arbitrary projects that you run, or what?

    Also, is the recent announcement about an experimental quantum Fredkin gate important? I stopped by here to see if there was anything about that. Tx 🙂

  26. John Sidles Says:

    Scott affirms (#24) “The point of this project [NSSEFF/Paths to Quantum Supremacy] is precisely to be at the interface between hardware and complexity theory.”

    From an NSSEFF perspective, the “interface between hardware and complexity theory” is a privileged research domain that it accommodates not one, but many, strategically vital objectives.

    Consider for example:

    A primary objective (from #24)  “Figure out how to realize an asymptotic [quantum] speedup over the best possible classical algorithms.”

    A dual objective  “Figure out how to adapt the best possible quantum algorithms to realize classical simulation speedups.”

    Synergies  A pretty considerable portion of this year’s NSSEFF Fellow Programs can benefit from this cross-catalyzing duality. For example, this year’s NSSEFF award to Aude Oliva’s “Cognitive Neuroscience” program at MIT, which relies crucially upon quantum spin imaging techologies (per #7 and #10), is one cross-catalytic instance among many.

    Great expectations  Progress toward primary quantum supremacy objectives catalyzes progress toward dual objectives (and vice versa) to such a degree, that if the fondest hopes of quantum supremacists are realized, then realized too will be the fondest hopes of algorithm supremacists.

    Safe predictions  The DoD/NSSEFF investment in “Paths to Quantum Supremacy” is likely to return broad-reaching research dividends — not all of which can be anticipated at the outset. Which is good! 🙂

  27. William Hird Says:

    John # 26
    Hi John, nice that the gov-ment puts up this big money to support the research but are there any strings attached ? Like do they first dibs on any of the technology developed with their (our ? ) money ?

  28. mike Says:

    Off topic: Nice piece in Aeon.

  29. John Sidles Says:

    The term “Quantum Supremacy” originated (as far as I can tell) in John Preskill’s 25th Solvay Conference on Physics lecture “Quantum computing and the entanglement frontier” (2011, arXiv:1203.5813).

    Preskill’s survey is well worth reading (as it seems to me).

    In regard to the various roles of “Quantum Supremacy” relating to broader STEAM-objectives, “the other Scott A” (meaning Scott Alexander) graciously hosted my brief comment:

    Three Homologous Tensions

    (1) Conservative Restrictions
         versus Progressive Openness
    (2) David Hockney
         versus Jacob Collins
    (3) Quantum Supremacy
         versus the Varietal Aufklärung

    Long may today’s catalytic STEAM-tensions between “Quantum Supremacy” and the “Varietal Aufklärung” be productively, collegially, and enjoyably sustained!  🙂

  30. Rahul Says:


    Is there any material about your “Paths to Quantum Supremacy” project that you could post? Links to slides, pdfs, the proposal submitted, anything?

    Would be interesting to read!

  31. UWaterloo Says:


  32. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Quantum Computing — OK, now I get it:


  33. Jim Cliborn Says:

    Scott, please know that it breaks my heart to know that at 72 I am way past the ability to get a Masters and Doctorate and become one of your post-docs! I am reading ‘Democritus’ though! Bless you!