Aaronson’s non-bet of non-confidence in P≠NP

As you have undoubtedly heard by now, there is a paper that claims to prove P!=NP, and there is a serious effort to understand the proof.

It has been fun to watch the experts set to work on this, and it has brought a lot of attention to random k-SAT, a problem that was near and dear to me when I was a grad student. And I get to learn interesting things from them without having to struggle through Deolalikar’s opus myself.

One interesting thing is the way Scott Aaronson reacted, saying:

If Vinay Deolalikar is awarded the $1,000,000 Clay Millennium Prize for his proof of P≠NP, then I, Scott Aaronson, will personally supplement his prize by the amount of $200,000.

When I first read about Aaronson’s offer to add $200K to the prize money, reported 2nd hand in a roundup of what the #pnp blogs were saying, it came off like the young professor is really hoping to have people work on this thing. But once my trusty rss feeder fed me his post, I realized his offer is not about how profs at private universities have disposable income that public schools don’t provide. It’s his way of quantifing his confidence in the accuracy of the proof.

If Aaronson had framed this in terms of a bet, it would be a textbook example of his level of certainty that the proof will have a flaw (a textbook in decision theory, anyway). But offering the sum without any possibility of receiving a return in the alternative scenario breaks expected utility theory. How certain is Scott? It all depends on what amount of money means nothing to him.

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One response to “Aaronson’s non-bet of non-confidence in P≠NP

  1. Aaronson’s reflections on the emotional response to his non-bet: http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=457