Monday, November 30th, 2020

Letter from the Director, November 2020

Dear friends,

We are entering the final weeks of a unique semester at the Simons Institute, as in institutions across the world. I’d like to extend a word of appreciation to our program organizers and staff, who have shown exceptional flexibility and innovative spirit, rolling out our research programs in a fully online environment for the first (and hopefully last) time in the Institute’s history. In innovative forums like Gather.Town and collaboration platforms like Discord and Zoom, our program participants have delved deep into questions in reinforcement learning and high dimensionality, while adapting to extraordinary circumstances and new modes of collaboration at a distance.

The Simons Institute’s virtual collaboration space in Gather.TownThe Simons Institute’s virtual collaboration space in Gather.Town

We are optimistic that we will be able to welcome many of you to Calvin Lab at some point this spring. With rates of novel-coronavirus infections currently rising in California and across the world, it remains unclear at exactly what point the Institute will be permitted to reopen for face-to-face convenings, but we will keep you posted as we learn more.

The Simons Institute is delighted to announce that we will be hosting two research pods beginning in Spring 2021 — one in quantum computing and one in machine learning. Each pod will consist of a small number of junior and senior researchers and will feature sustained research over several years as well as focused research programs, summer clusters, and other activities. The machine learning pod will be led by our associate director, Peter Bartlett, and will be funded by two previously announced grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The quantum pod will be led by our director for quantum computing, Umesh Vazirani, and will be funded by a previously announced NSF award as well as by a new $115 million award from the Department of Energy to the newly established Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA). You can read more about our new pods initiative here.

In this issue of the newsletter, Richard M. Karp Research Fellow Ahmed El Alaoui shares an insider’s perspective on the Fall 2020 research program on Probability, Geometry, and Computation in High Dimensions.

In our SimonsTV corner, we share two recent talks from our Richard M. Karp Distinguished Lectures — Is Your Distribution in Shape? (Ronitt Rubinfeld) and Reductionism in Reinforcement Learning (Dale Schuurmans) — as well as Ashwin Pananjady’s lightning talk at our sixth annual Industry Day. And from our archive, we present Scott Aaronson’s popular 2017 talk from our Theoretically Speaking series, Black Holes, Firewalls, and the Limits of Quantum Computers

I hope this message finds you doing well, and I look forward to seeing you in person soon.

Best wishes,

Shafi Goldwasser
Director, Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing