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Distinguished Seminar: Randomness

Dr. Avi Wigderson (Institute for Advanced Study)

Friday, March 28, 2014, 6pm, EV 1.605


Is the universe inherently deterministic or probabilistic? Perhaps more importantly - can we tell the difference between the two?

Humanity has pondered the meaning and utility of randomness for millennia. There is a remarkable variety of ways in which we utilize perfect coin tosses to our advantage: in statistics, cryptography, game theory, algorithms, gambling... Indeed, randomness seems indispensable! Which of these applications survive if the universe had no randomness in it at all? Which of them survive if only poor quality randomness is available, e.g. that arises from "unpredictable" phenomena like the weather or the stock market?

A computational theory of randomness, developed in the past three decades, reveals (perhaps counter-intuitively) that very little is lost in such deterministic or weakly random worlds. In the talk I'll explain the main ideas and results of this theory.

The talk is aimed at a general audience, and no particular background will be assumed.


Dr. Avi Wigderson is a Professor at the School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the Godel Prize, the Conant Prize, and the Nevalinna Prize for his contributions to theoretical computer science.

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