Monday, July 1st, 2013

Report: Symposium on Visions of the Theory of Computing, May 2013

During the past two decades, the theory of computing has started looking outwards—a trend which coincides historically, and in a sense mirrors, the increasing ubiquity of computation via the Internet. The mode of scientific thinking developed by researchers in the theory of computing in order to understand computation has proved to be useful in tackling important questions in all of science: deciphering phase transitions in statistical physics, fathoming the workings of protein networks, gaining insights into games, auctions and social networks, even understanding the physical nature of the universe through quantum information and computation. This mode of interdisciplinary research was pioneered by Berkeley's Theory of Computing research group, who in a symposium on the topic they organized in the spring of 2001 dubbed it "the algorithmic lens on the sciences."  A decade later, the lens became a central theme of our proposal for the Simons Institute, and, together with the quest for advances in the core fields of algorithms and complexity theory, now forms one of the two pillars of the Institute's research mission.
From May 29 through 31, 2013, the Institute hosted a scientific symposium of extraordinary power and scope entitled "Visions of the Theory of Computing."  In this inaugural event, which was open to all, an array of great thinkers from diverse walks of science were invited to articulate their visions of the ways in which research in the theory of computing advances both our understanding of the core problems that lie at the foundations of computation, and our ability to make progress in key questions in the domain sciences. The speakers included Joshua Bloom (astrophysicist, UC Berkeley), Bernard Chazelle (computer scientist, Princeton University), Maria Chudnovsky (mathematician, Columbia University), Shafi Goldwasser (computer scientist, MIT), David Haussler (bioinformatician, UC Santa Cruz), Jeff Hawkins (neuroscientist, Numenta), Jon Kleinberg (computer scientist, Cornell University), Daphne Koller (computer scientist, Stanford University), Marc Mézard (physicist, ENS Paris), S. Muthukrishnan (computer scientist, Rutgers University and Microsoft Research), Christos Papadimitriou (computer scientist, UC Berkeley), Judea Pearl (computer scientist, UCLA), John Preskill (physicist, Caltech), Prabhakar Raghavan (computer scientist, Google), Alvin Roth (economist, Stanford University), Ned Seeman (chemist, New York University), Leslie Valiant (computer scientist, Harvard University), and Avi Wigderson (computer scientist, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton).
For more details on this event, including links to videos of all the talks, please see


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