Scott Aaronson

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Scott Joel Aaronson
Scott Aaronson retouched.jpg
Scott Joel Aaronson
Born (1981-05-21) May 21, 1981 (age 33)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Nationality American
Fields Computational complexity theory, Quantum Computing
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Institute for Advanced Study
University of Waterloo
Alma mater Cornell University
University of California, Berkeley
Doctoral advisor Umesh Vazirani
Known for Quantum Turing with postselection
Notable awards Alan T. Waterman Award

Scott Joel Aaronson (born May 21, 1981)[1] is a theoretical computer scientist and faculty member in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Early life and education[edit]

Aaronson grew up in the United States, though he spent a year in Far East when his father—a science writer turned public-relations executive—was posted to Hong Kong.[2] He enrolled in a school there that permitted him to skip ahead several years in math, but, upon returning to the US, he found his education too restrictive, getting bad grades and having run-ins with teachers. A change for the better came thanks to a program for gifted youngsters run by Clarkson University, which enabled the young Aaronson to accelerate his learning and apply for colleges while only in his freshman year of high school.[2] He was accepted into Cornell University, where he obtained his BSc in computer science in 2000,[3] then switched to University of California, Berkeley, for his PhD, which he got in 2004 under the supervision of Umesh Vazirani.[4]

Aaronson had shown exceptional ability in mathematics from an early age, teaching himself calculus at the age of 11 after having his curiosity roused by the strange symbols in a babysitter's textbook. With computer programming, however, he always felt he lagged behind his peers, since it only came to his attention when he was 11. Many of the other bright kids he associated with had already been coding for years by then, and he felt he never fully made up the lost ground. Partly for this reason, he felt more drawn to the theoretical side to computing, particularly computational complexity. It was at Cornell that he heard about and became interested in quantum computing, and so it was to computational complexity and quantum computing that he decided to devote himself.[2]


After postdoctorates at the Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Waterloo, he took a faculty position at MIT in 2007.[3] His primary area of research is quantum computing and computational complexity theory more generally.


  • Aaronson is one of two winners of the 2012 Alan T. Waterman Award.[5]
  • Best Paper Award of CSR 2011 for the paper "The Equivalence of Sampling and Searching".

Popular work[edit]

He is a founder of the Complexity Zoo wiki, which catalogs all classes of computational complexity.[6][7] He is the author of the much-read blog "Shtetl-Optimized" [8] as well as the essay "Who Can Name The Bigger Number?".[9] The latter work, widely distributed in academic computer science, uses the concept of Busy Beaver Numbers as described by Tibor Radó to illustrate the limits of computability in a pedagogic environment. He has also taught a graduate-level survey course called Quantum Computing Since Democritus,[10] for which the notes are available online and which has been published as a book by Cambridge University Press.[11] It weaves together seemingly disparate topics into a cohesive whole, including quantum mechanics, complexity, free will, time travel, the anthropic principle and many others. Many of these interdisciplinary applications of computational complexity were later fleshed out in his article "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity".[12] An article of Aaronson's, "The Limits of Quantum Computers", was published in Scientific American,[13] and he was a guest speaker at the 2007 Foundational Questions in Science Institute conference.[14] Aaronson is frequently cited in non-academic press, such as Science News,[15] The Age,[16] ZDNet,[17] Slashdot,[18] New Scientist,[19] The New York Times,[20] and Forbes Magazine.[21]

Intellectual property[edit]

Aaronson was the subject of media attention in October 2007, when he accused an advertising agency of plagiarizing a lecture he wrote on quantum mechanics in an advertisement of theirs.[22] He alleged that a commercial for Ricoh Australia by Sydney-based agency Love Communications appropriated content almost verbatim from the lecture.[23] Aaronson received an apologetic email from the agency in which they claimed to have sought legal advice and did not believe that they were in violation of his copyright. Unsatisfied, Aaronson pursued the matter, and the agency settled the dispute without admitting wrongdoing by making a charitable contribution to two science organizations of his choice. Concerning this matter, Aaronson stated, "Someone suggested [on my blog] a cameo with the models but if was between that and a free printer, I think I'd take the printer."[23]


  1. ^ Aaronson, Scott. "Scott Aaronson". Qwiki. 
  2. ^ a b c Hardesty, Larry (7 April 2014). "The complexonaut". Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  3. ^ a b CV from Aaronson's web site.
  4. ^ Scott Joel Aaronson at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  5. ^ NSF to Honor Two Early Career Researchers in Computational Science With Alan T. Waterman Award, National Science Foundation, March 8, 2012, retrieved 2012-03-08.
  6. ^ Automata, Computability and Complexity by Elaine Rich (2008) ISBN 0-13-228806-0, p. 589, section "The Complexity Zoo"
  7. ^ The Complexity Zoo page (originally) at Qwiki (a quantum physics wiki, Stanford University)
  8. ^ "Shtetl-Optimized". Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  9. ^ Aaronson, Scott. "Who Can Name the Bigger Number?". academic personal website. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT. Retrieved 2014-01-02. 
  10. ^ "PHYS771 Quantum Computing Since Democritus". Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  11. ^ "Quantum Computing Democritus :: Quantum physics, quantum information and quantum computation :: Cambridge University Press". Retrieved 2014-01-23. 
  12. ^ Aaronson, Scott (2011). "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity". arXiv:1108.1791v3 [CC cs. CC].
  13. ^ Aaronson, Scott (February 2008). "The Limits of Quantum Computers". Scientific American 298 (3): 62. Bibcode:2008SciAm.298c..62A. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0308-62. 
  14. ^ "Foundational Questions in Science Institute conference". The Science Show. ABC Radio. 18 August 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  15. ^ Peterson, Ivars (November 20, 1999). "Quantum Games". Science News (Science Service) 156 (21): 334. doi:10.2307/4012018. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  16. ^ Franklin, Roger (November 17, 2002). "Two-digit theory gets two fingers". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  17. ^ Judge, Peter (November 9, 2007). "D-Wave's quantum computer ready for latest demo". ZDNet. CNET. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  18. ^ Dawson, Keith (November 29, 2008). "Improving Wikipedia Coverage of Computer Science". Slashdot. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  19. ^ Brooks, Michael (March 31, 2007). "Outside of time: The quantum gravity computer". New Scientist (2597). 
  20. ^ Pontin, Jason (April 8, 2007). "A Giant Leap Forward in Computing? Maybe Not". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  21. ^ Gomes, Lee (December 12, 2008). "Your World View Doesn't Compute". Forbes. 
  22. ^ Tadros, Edmund (October 3, 2007). "Ad agency cribbed my lecture notes: professor". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  23. ^ a b Tadros, Edmund (December 20, 2007). "Ad company settles plagiarism complaint". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 2008-12-01. 

External links[edit]