Letter from the Director, May 2020

Dear friends,

I hope all of you are well, in the midst of this extraordinary time. Like many of you, we at the Institute — faculty leaders, program participants, and staff — are now working from home in a global attempt to flatten the curve of coronavirus transmission.

This semester has been vibrant. Our two research programs — on quantum computing and on lattices and post-quantum cryptography — have had many cross-program conversations and collaborations. Early in March, several of our researchers took their meetings outdoors for “research hikes,” and some meetings were held remotely. Now that the Bay Area is under a “shelter in place” directive, all of our activities have migrated online — workshops, public lectures, seminars, collaboration meetings, and even daily tea.

We’re delighted to announce the launch of Theory Shorts, the Simons Institute’s new documentary web series exploring the research that takes place in our programs. The first episode, “Perception as Inference: The Brain and Computation,” examines the computational processes by which the human brain builds coherent visual models based on noisy or incomplete sense data. This short film features program organizer and theoretical neuroscientist Bruno Olshausen and is directed by Christoph Drösser, the Institute’s Fall 2017 journalist in residence.

This issue of the newsletter also includes episodes of Simons Institute Polylogues relating to the intersections of theoretical computer science and coronavirus mitigation: an interview with Guy Rothblum about a new project applying techniques from the field of algorithmic fairness to predict high-severity COVID-19 cases; and an interview with a number of program organizers and participants in our spring research programs, about research resilience under quarantine.

We’re also pleased to share Senior Scientist Prasad Raghavendra’s regular column about current and upcoming activities, and “From the Inside” articles on the Proofs, Consensus, and Decentralizing Society and Online and Matching-Based Market Design programs. Shayan Oveis Gharan presents a research vignette from the program on Geometry of Polynomials.

And we have a feature from our 2019 journalist in residence, Konstantin Kakaes, on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration among computer scientists, social scientists, and scholars in the humanities; the article is followed by a response from Nick Arnosti, Arvind Narayanan, Alexandros Psomas, and Matt Weinberg.

I’m deeply grateful to our program and workshop organizers and participants for their tireless efforts to ensure research continuity during this challenging time, as well as to our staff for their dedication and professionalism during the closures. Looking ahead to this summer, we will have a cluster on Interpretable Machine Learning. The scheduled program on Computational Innovation and Data-Driven Biology has been postponed due to coronavirus-related scheduling difficulties; further information will be forthcoming.

We hope to see you online or in person soon. And you can also join us on our blog, Calvin Café, and on Facebook and YouTube.

Best wishes to you and yours,


Shafi Goldwasser
Director, Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing




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