Jul 7, 2022

Researchers Defeat Randomness to Create Ideal Code

Posted by in category: computing

Circa 2021

Suppose you are trying to transmit a message. Convert each character into bits, and each bit into a signal. Then send it, over copper or fiber or air. Try as you might to be as careful as possible, what is received on the other side will not be the same as what you began with. Noise never fails to corrupt.

In the 1940s, computer scientists first confronted the unavoidable problem of noise. Five decades later, they came up with an elegant approach to sidestepping it: What if you could encode a message so that it would be obvious if it had been garbled before your recipient even read it? A book can’t be judged by its cover, but this message could.

They called this property local testability, because such a message can be tested super-fast in just a few spots to ascertain its correctness. Over the next 30 years, researchers made substantial progress toward creating such a test, but their efforts always fell short. Many thought local testability would never be achieved in its ideal form.

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