Letter from the Director, June 2024

Dear friends,

Jim Simons, the larger-than-life mathematician-entrepreneur-philanthropist to whom the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing owes its existence passed away last month. Many of those in our research community have been reflecting on Jim’s wisdom, generosity, and humanity over the last few weeks. I share some of those remembrances with you in this issue of the newsletter, along with the obituary published by Berkeley News. We bid farewell to a great man.

On June 19, 2024, Luca Trevisan, who served as senior scientist at the Simons Institute from 2014 to 2019, passed away. He was 52. We are deeply shaken by his passing. Luca was one of a kind: a brilliant scientist, an incredible expositor, and a man with a sharp eye for humor in all human situations. The theory community will not be the same without Luca. We will be devoting the next issue of the newsletter (coming soon) to celebrating Luca's life. 

Life at the Institute goes on.

The summer term is now in full swing, and we are delighted to be hosting a research program on Sublinear Algorithms and a summer cluster on AI, Psychology, and Neuroscience. The central question in Sublinear Algorithms is: How do algorithms and complexity measures change when your data is too large to be fully examined?  We invite you to sample the talks from the recent boot camp for a range of answers, which reimagine computation without full access to inputs. 

The cluster on AI, Psychology, and Neuroscience studies has gathered leading psychologists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and computer scientists in theory and AI from around the world. I am honored that they have come together at the Institute to explore what human and animal intelligence considered more broadly can tell us about artificial intelligence, and to find parallels and differences with current breakthroughs in large language models and theories of mind. We will be sharing videos and highlights in a later edition of the newsletter.

The Spring 2024 programs on quantum computing and on error-correcting codes that just ended witnessed breakthrough results. In our SimonsTV corner this month, we share some of our recent workshop talks — by Yunchao Liu on Learning Shallow Quantum Circuits and Quantum States Prepared by Shallow Circuits in Polynomial Time; by John Preskill on Michael Ben-Or’s contributions to quantum error-correction; and by Sivakanth Gopi on Higher-Order MDS Codes.

Topics related to the foundations of computing have been the talk of the town this month. I am happy to share some of this coverage with you in our In the Press corner: first, a short film by Communications of the ACM about Avi Wigderson, who received the Turing Award this spring. Next, a pair of Quanta articles by former Simons Institute science communicators in residence Ben Brubaker and Lakshmi Chandrasekaran about a new basis for quantum cryptography and a fast algorithm for finding the Hamiltonian of quantum systems, respectively. And finally, Michael Barbaro and the producers of the New York Times’ podcast The Daily explore research that my colleagues from Project CETI are doing to decode sperm whale communication.

Hope you have a good, or at least a good enough, rest of the summer.