The $\mathbb{F}_1$ World Seminar

For some time I knew it was in the making, now they are ready to launch it:

The $\mathbb{F}_1$ World Seminar, an online seminar dedicated to the “field with one element”, and its many connections to areas in mathematics such as arithmetic, geometry, representation theory and combinatorics. The organisers are Jaiung Jun, Oliver Lorscheid, Yuri Manin, Matt Szczesny, Koen Thas and Matt Young.

From the announcement:

“While the origins of the “$\mathbb{F}_1$-story” go back to attempts to transfer Weil’s proof of the Riemann Hypothesis from the function field case to that of number fields on one hand, and Tits’s Dream of realizing Weyl groups as the $\mathbb{F}_1$ points of algebraic groups on the other, the “$\mathbb{F}_1$” moniker has come to encompass a wide variety of phenomena and analogies spanning algebraic geometry, algebraic topology, arithmetic, combinatorics, representation theory, non-commutative geometry etc. It is therefore impossible to compile an exhaustive list of topics that might be discussed. The following is but a small sample of topics that may be covered:

Algebraic geometry in non-additive contexts – monoid schemes, lambda-schemes, blue schemes, semiring and hyperfield schemes, etc.
Arithmetic – connections with motives, non-archimedean and analytic geometry
Tropical geometry and geometric matroid theory
Algebraic topology – K-theory of monoid and other “non-additive” schemes/categories, higher Segal spaces
Representation theory – Hall algebras, degenerations of quantum groups, quivers
Combinatorics – finite field and incidence geometry, and various generalizations”

The seminar takes place on alternating Wednesdays from 15:00 PM – 16:00 PM European Standard Time (=GMT+1). There will be room for mathematical discussion after each lecture.

The first meeting takes place Wednesday, January 19th 2022. If you want to receive abstracts of the talks and their Zoom-links, you should sign up for the mailing list.

Perhaps I’ll start posting about $\mathbb{F}_1$ again, either here, or on the dormant $\mathbb{F}_1$ mathematics blog. (see this post for its history).

Huawei and French mathematics

Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, appears to support (and divide) the French mathematical community.

I was surprised to see that Laurent Lafforgue’s affiliation recently changed from ‘IHES’ to ‘Huawei’, for example here as one of the organisers of the Lake Como conference on ‘Unifying themes in geometry’.

Judging from this short Huawei-clip (in French) he thoroughly enjoys his new position.

Huawei claims that ‘Three more winners of the highest mathematics award have now joined Huawei’:

Maxim Kontsevich, (IHES) Fields medal 1998

Pierre-Louis Lions (College de France) Fields medal 1994

Alessio Figalli (ETH) Fields medal 2018

These news-stories seem to have been G-translated from the Chinese, resulting in misspellings and perhaps other inaccuracies. Maxim’s research field is described as ‘kink theory’ (LoL).

Apart from luring away Fields medallist, Huawei set up last year the brand new Huawei Lagrange Research Center in the posh 7th arrondissement de Paris. (This ‘Lagrange Center’ is different from the Lagrange Institute in Paris devoted to astronomy and physics.)



It aims to host about 30 researchers in mathematics and computer science, giving them the opportunity to live in the ‘unique eco-system of Paris, having the largest group of mathematicians in the world, as well as the best universities’.

Last May, Michel Broué authored an open letter to the French mathematical community Dans un hotel particulier du 7eme arrondissement de Paris (in French). A G-translation of the final part of this open letter:

“In the context of a very insufficient research and development effort in France, and bleak prospects for our young researchers, it is tempting to welcome the creation of the Lagrange center. We welcome the rise of Chinese mathematics to the highest level, and we are obviously in favour of scientific cooperation with our Chinese colleagues.

But in view of the role played by Huawei in the repression in Xinjiang and potentially everywhere in China, we call on mathematicians and computer scientists already engaged to withdraw from this project. We ask all researchers not to participate in the activities of this center, as we ourselves are committed to doing.”

Among the mathematicians signing the letter are Pierre Cartier and Pierre Schapira.

To be continued.

Bourbaki and Grothendieck-Serre

This time of year I’m usually in France, or at least I was before Covid. This might explain for my recent obsession with French math YouTube interviews.

Today’s first one is about Bourbaki’s golden years, the period between WW2 and 1975. Alain Connes is trying to get some anecdotes from Jean-Pierre Serre, Pierre Cartier, and Jacques Dixmier.

If you don’t have the time to sit through the whole thing, perhaps you might have a look at the discussion on whether or not to include categories in Bourbaki (starting at 51.40 into the clip).

Here are some other time-slots (typed on a qwerty keyboard, mes excuses) with some links.

  • 8.59 : Canular stupide (mort de Bourbaki)
  • 15.45 : recrutement de Koszul
  • 17.45 : recrutement de Grothendieck
  • 26.15 : influence de Serre
  • 28.05 : importance des ultra filtres
  • 35.35 : Meyer
  • 37.20 : faisceaux
  • 51.00 : Grothendieck
  • 51.40 : des categories, Gabriel-Demazure
  • 57.50 : lemme de Serre, theoreme de Weil
  • 1.03.20 : Chevalley vs. Godement
  • 1.05.26 : retraite Dieudonne
  • 1.07.05 : retraite
  • 1.10.00 : Weil vs. Serre-Borel
  • 1.13.50 : hierarchie Bourbaki
  • 1.20.22 : categories
  • 1.21.30 : Bourbaki, une secte?
  • 1.22.15 : Grothendieck C.N.R.S. 1984

The second one is an interview conducted by Alain Connes with Jean-Pierre Serre on the Grothendieck-Serre correspondence.

Again, if you don’t have the energy to sit through it all, perhaps I can tempt you with Serre’s reaction to Connes bringing up the subject of toposes (starting at 14.36 into the clip).

  • 2.10 : 2e these de Grothendieck: des faisceaux
  • 3.50 : Grothendieck -> Bourbaki
  • 6.46 : Tohoku
  • 8.00 : categorie des diagrammes
  • 9.10 : schemas et Krull
  • 10.50 : motifs
  • 11.50 : cohomologie etale
  • 14.05 : Weil
  • 14.36 : topos
  • 16.30 : Langlands
  • 19.40 : Grothendieck, cours d’ecologie
  • 24.20 : Dwork
  • 25.45 : Riemann-Roch
  • 29.30 : influence de Serre
  • 30.50 : fin de correspondence
  • 32.05 : pourquoi?
  • 33.10 : SGA 5
  • 34.50 : methode G. vs. theorie des nombres
  • 37.00 : paranoia
  • 37.15 : Grothendieck = centrale nucleaire
  • 38.30 : Clef des songes
  • 42.35 : 30.000 pages, probleme du mal
  • 44.25 : Ribenboim
  • 45.20 : Grothendieck a Paris, publication R et S
  • 48.00 : 50 ans IHES, lettre a Bourguignon
  • 50.46 : Laurant Laforgue
  • 51.35 : Lasserre
  • 53.10 : l’humour

the bongcloud attack

In this neverending pandemic there’s a shortage of stories putting a lasting smile on my face. Here’s one.



If you are at all interested in chess, you’ll know by now that some days ago IGMs (that is, international grandmasters for the rest of you) Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura opened an official game with a double bongcloud, and couldn’t stop laughing.

The bongcloud attack is the chess opening in which white continues after

1. e2-e4, e7-e5

with

2. Ke1-e2 !

thereby blocking the diagonals for the bishop and queen, losing the ability to castle, and putting its king in danger.

If you are left clueless, you should download the free e-book Winning with the bongcloud immediately.

If you are (or were) a chess player, it is the perfect parody to all those books you had to suffer through in order to build up an ‘opening repertoire’.

If you are new to chess (perhaps after watching The queen’s gambit), it gives you a nice selection of easy mate-in-one problems.

Every possible defence against the bongcloud is illustrated with a ‘game’ illustrating the massive advantage the attack gives, ending with a situation in which … black(!) has a one-move mate.

One example:

In the two knight Copacabana tango defense against the bongcloud, that is the position after



the Haight-Asbury (yeah, well) game (Linares, 1987) continued with:

4. Kg3, Nxe4?
5. Kh3, d6+
6. Qg4!, Bxg4
7. Kxg4, Qf6??
8. Ne2, h5+??
9. Kh3!, Nxf2
10. Kg3!

giving this position



which ‘Winning with the bongcloud’ evaluates as:

White continues his textbook execution of a “pendulum,” swinging back and forth between g3 and h3 to counter every Black threat. With the dynamically placed King, Black’s attack teeters on the edge of petering out. Nxh1 will trap the Black Knight and extinguish the threat.

In the actual game, play took a different turn as Black continued his h-file pressure. Nonetheless, this game is an excellent example of how 2. …Nc6 is often a wasted tempo in the Bongcloud.

Here’s Nakamura philosophising over the game and the bongcloud. Try to watch at least the first 30 seconds or so to see the commentators reaction to the actual Carlsen-Nakamura game.

Now, that put a smile on your face, didn’t it?

Teapot supremacy

No, this is not another timely post about the British Royal family.

It’s about Richard Borcherds’ “teapot test” for quantum computers.



A lot of money is being thrown at the quantum computing hype, causing people to leave academia for quantum computing firms. A recent example (hitting the press even in Belgium) being the move of Bob Coecke from Oxford University to Cambridge Quantum Computing.

Sure, quantum computing is an enticing idea, and we have fantastic quantum algorithms such as Shor’s factorisation algorithm and Grover’s search algorithm.

The (engineering) problem is building quantum computers with a large enough number of qubits, which is very difficult due to quantum decoherence. To an outsider it may appear that the number of qubits in a working quantum computer is growing at best linearly, if not logarithmic, in sharp contrast to Moore’s law for classical computers, stating that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years.

Quantum computing evangelists assure us that this is nonsense, and that we should replace Moore’s law by Neven’s law claiming that the computing power of quantum computers will grow not just exponentially, but doubly exponentially!

What is behind these exaggerated claims?

In 2015 the NSA released a policy statement on the need for post-quantum cryptography. In the paper “A riddle wrapped in an enigma”, Neil Koblitz and Alfred Menezes carefully examined NSA’s possible strategies behind this assertion.

Can the NSA break PQC? Can the NSA break RSA? Does the NSA believes that RSA-3072 is much more quantum-resistant than ECC-256 and even ECC-384?, and so on.

Perhaps the most plausible of all explanations is this one : the NSA is using a diversion strategy aimed at Russia and China.

Suppose that the NSA believes that, although a large-scale quantum computer might eventually be built, it will be hugely expensive. From a cost standpoint it will be less analogous to Alan Turing’s bombe than to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo program, and it will be within the capabilities of only a small number of nation-states and huge corporations.

Suppose also that, in thinking about the somewhat adversarial relationship that still exists between the U.S. and both China and Russia, especially in the area of cybersecurity, the NSA asked itself “How did we win the Cold War? The main strategy was to goad the Soviet Union into an arms race that it could not afford, essentially bankrupting it. Their GNP was so much less than ours, what was a minor set-back for our economy was a major disaster for theirs. It was a great strategy. Let’s try it again.”

This brings us to the claim of quantum supremacy, that is, demonstrating that a programmable quantum device can solve a problem that no classical computer can solve in any feasible amount of time.

In 2019, Google claimed “to have reached quantum supremacy with an array of 54 qubits out of which 53 were functional, which were used to perform a series of operations in 200 seconds that would take a supercomputer about 10,000 years to complete”. In December 2020, a group based in USTC reached quantum supremacy by implementing a type of Boson sampling on 76 photons with their photonic quantum computer. They stated that to generate the number of samples the quantum computer generates in 20 seconds, a classical supercomputer would require 600 million years of computation.

Richard Borcherds rants against the type of problems used to claim quantum ‘supremacy’. He proposes the ‘teapot problem’ which a teapot can solve instantaneously, but will be impossibly hard for classical (and even quantum) computers. That is, any teapot achieves ‘teapot supremacy’ over classical and quantum computers!

Another point of contention are the ‘real-life applications’ quantum computers are said to be used for. Probably he is referring to Volkswagen’s plan for traffic optimization with a D-Wave quantum computer in Lisbon.

“You could give these guys a time machine and all they’d use it for was going back to watch some episodes of some soap opera they missed”

Enjoy!