18 Jul 2002 Bram   » (Master)

A New Kind Of Plagiarism

Wolfram sued to keep the proof, written by someone else, of the keystone result in his book from being published before the book came out!

I think Wolfram's understanding of universality is weak. He completely glosses over the issues of encoding, which would be excusable for the purposes of exposition, but he commits a horrible technical gaffe created by that confusion. Specifically, he claims that because rule 110 is universal, there must be a straightforward encoding in it to compute a single generation of any of the other cellular automata. This is simply untrue, given the very non-straightforward encoding used in the proof of universality. Whether there is a proof of universality which uses a straightforward encoding is unclear.

Wolfram is clearly violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules of attribution, and his innovative use of the legal system to do so has chilling consequences.

New Axioms

I think this posting says there is now a known theorem which can be expressed using basic arithmetic but requires an axiom even stronger than basic set theory to prove. Fascinating.


Jeff Darcy correctly reconstructs our earlier conversation about pipelining. Pipelining is an important concept in networking, so I'll explain it here.

Let's say you have some data being transferred over a TCP connection in pieces. The simplest way is for the sending side spew everything, but that leaves no control on the receiving end other than to close the connection completely. In many protocols, the receiving side must explicitly ask for a piece before it is sent. The most straightforward implementation of this is for the receiving side to request a single piece, and thereafter request a new piece every time the last requested one arrives.

Unfortunately, that approach causes the sending side to pause after every piece sent, thus reducing throughput. Turning off Nagle will keep the congestion control damage from being too bad, but it still won't get rid of the pause. The Right Way is for the receiving side to send out requests for several things, then send out an additional request every time a piece comes in. This technique is called pipelining, and it ensures that the sending side always has something in queue.

Distributed Proofs

Some notes in my ongoing discussion of automated proof checkers with Raph -

Math papers generally contain coherent self-contained proofs, which result in one or more theorems. The self-contained part of the proof is straightforward, the subtlety comes in with what the proof imports and exports.

Exported theorems should be separately referenceable, since there is often more than one proof of a theorem.

I'm not sure whether an axiomatic system, such as peano's axioms, needs to be handled any differently from a theroem. Certainly, peano arithmetic can be constructed in a multitude of ways using ZFC. Whether to believe a theorem on its face, or require a proof based on something else, should be left up to the client proof checker, which is free to believe whatever it wants.

Namespacing of imported theorems is a subtle issue. Clearly clients must notice when a proof tries to use theorems about commutative groups on axioms which don't state commutativity. Also, it is important to be able to combine theorems which are both based on the axioms of arithmetic, but refer to cosmetically different statements of them. Requiring everyone to use the same encodings would likely prove unworkable in practice.

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