Wednesday, August 1, 2007


In September, I will be attending China Theory Week. The official goal of the workshop is to invite "all the brilliant graduates from different universities to communicate, and to present their research results in the field of theoretical computer science". The list of invitees is available online.

Now, this seems to me like a wonderful example of public service. Not only do you provide an opportunity for these people to talk about research, but you make it clear to the world who the brilliant graduate students are :) No need to carefully pour over applications when deciding who to get for an internship, or who to interview for a job. The list of all brilliant students is now online.

Poking fun at Chinglish aside, the more serious moral dilemma is whether to lend any further legitimacy to this government by attending. While it seems standard to treat this sort of questions with great care, I feel the case of an oppressive communist regime is especially serious. Those of us who grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain are probably particularly sensitive here.

In any case, I am going. My main defense is that Andy Yao is fighting a battle somewhat closer to home (promoting theory), and I can help. I cannot realistically put a dent on communism in China, but I can maybe help Andy's truly remarkable effort to open CS research to the said one billion people.

Speaking of this kind of laudable effort (ping to all my Eastern European and Indian friends), I talked to Andy about it when he visited MIT a couple of months ago. His opinion was crystal clear and memorable:

  1. going back to promote science is a most wonderful, dignifying pursuit.
  2. going back without a Turing award is, in one word, "suicidal".
Nevertheless, the braver among us have tried. Pranab Sen, of round elimination fame and formerly at NEC, is now at Tata Institute in Mumbay. Good luck, Pranab!


Andris said...

Well, I might try going back to Latvia in a foreseeable future. I hope I am not "suicidal".

Anonymous said...

ultra sensitive,
very brillian and
with a noble goal.
I hope that the
billion chinese
will prepare that
a buddha (or god?)
is arriving
in Beijing in Sept.

Anonymous said...

a buddha (or god?) is arriving in Beijing in Sept.

36 of them, and all brilliant :p

Anonymous said...

The other students
just want to prove
theorems in TCS.
Only Mihai is
ultra sensitive and
with a node goal,
so he is the only buddha.

--A chinese

MiP said...

I have always tried to do much more than prove TCS theorems (though I've been more successful at the latter, which is perhaps sad). As for communism, Eastern Europeans grew up hating what the system had done to us. I do not feel a moral need to be active against communism in the world, but I cannot support it either.

rgrig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rgrig said...

Consider disallowing anonymous comments (and leave captchas enabled), otherwise you'll soon have to filter spam.

Anonymous said...

OK I am joking about the buddha thing. Mihai,
maybe you donot know that, but most of chinese people,
like people in other parts of the world, donot know what focs/stoc papers are
and why we should make
a big deal out of it. So
your visting of china will not lend any further legitimacy to chinese government, or will not
decrease any legitimacy of US government for that matter. Just be relax and enjoy your visit.

MiP said...

@Andris: I think the main point is that in most countries (certainly in Romania) research in CS/theory, or even research in general, does not work properly. What these places need is someone with political influence to push the country's research in the right direction and give it credibility. A Turing award helps tremendously with that, but (as the anonymous commenter vigurously points out), STOC/FOCS papers don't really.

Anonymous said...

About rgrig's comment:

If there is no anonymous commenting, the number of people who leave comments will decrease dramatically. Captchas are good enough no?

Anonymous said...

I hope you will find that China is not such a bad place after all.

MiP said...

I went to China in 2001, and I heard things are even better now. I was quite impressed by the quality of life (as much as I was able to see in one week, of course, and only in Beijing). The only thing that worries me is that while you can get me to talk about the Romanian/US government in about 10 seconds, the people I met in China really seemed afraid to say anything beyond the book. Maybe it was just their perception of me as a foreigner.

Anonymous said...

We chinese are not
accustomed to deal with
people who think themselves
more important than
they actually are.
Just put
yourself in more humble position, you will be fine.