Scott Aaronson

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Scott Aaronson
Aaronson in 2011
Scott Joel Aaronson

(1981-05-21) May 21, 1981 (age 42)
Alma mater
Known for
SpouseDana Moshkovitz
Scientific career
FieldsComputational complexity theory, quantum computing
Doctoral advisorUmesh Vazirani,

Scott Joel Aaronson (born May 21, 1981)[1] is an American theoretical computer scientist and Schlumberger Centennial Chair of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin. His primary areas of research are computational complexity theory and quantum computing.

Personal life[edit]

Aaronson is married to computer scientist Dana Moshkovitz.[2] Aaronson identifies as Jewish.[3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Aaronson grew up in the United States, though he spent a year in Asia when his father—a science writer turned public-relations executive—was posted to Hong Kong.[6] 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 restrictive, getting bad grades and having run-ins with teachers. He enrolled in The Clarkson School, a gifted education program run by Clarkson University, which enabled Aaronson to apply for colleges while only in his freshman year of high school.[6] He was accepted into Cornell University, where he obtained his BSc in computer science in 2000,[7] and where he resided at the Telluride House.[8] He then attended the University of California, Berkeley, for his PhD, which he got in 2004 under the supervision of Umesh Vazirani.[9]

Aaronson had shown ability in mathematics from an early age, teaching himself calculus at the age of 11, provoked by symbols in a babysitter's textbook. He discovered computer programming at age 11, and felt he lagged behind peers, who had already been coding for years. In part due to Aaronson getting into advanced mathematics before getting into computer programming, he felt drawn to theoretical computing, particularly computational complexity theory. At Cornell, he became interested in quantum computing and devoted himself to computational complexity and quantum computing.[6]


After postdoctorates at the Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Waterloo, he took a faculty position at MIT in 2007.[7] His primary area of research is quantum computing and computational complexity theory more generally.

In the summer of 2016 he moved from MIT to the University of Texas at Austin as David J. Bruton Jr. Centennial Professor of Computer Science and as the founding director of UT Austin's new Quantum Information Center.[2] In summer 2022 he announced he would be working for a year at OpenAI on theoretical foundations of AI safety.[10][11]


Popular work[edit]

He is a founder of the Complexity Zoo wiki, which catalogs all classes of computational complexity.[22][23] He is the author of the much-read blog "Shtetl-Optimized".[24]

In the interview to Scientific American he answers why his blog is called shtetl-optimized, and about his preoccupation to the past:

Shtetls were Jewish villages in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. They're where all my ancestors came from—some actually from the same place (Vitebsk) as Marc Chagall, who painted the fiddler on the roof. I watched Fiddler many times as a kid, both the movie and the play. And every time, there was a jolt of recognition, like: "So that's the world I was designed to inhabit. All the aspects of my personality that mark me out as weird today, the obsessive reading and the literal-mindedness and even the rocking back and forth—I probably have them because back then they would've made me a better Talmud scholar, or something."

— Scott Aaronson[25]

He also wrote the essay "Who Can Name The Bigger Number?".[26] 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, "Quantum Computing Since Democritus",[27] for which notes are available online, and have been published as a book by Cambridge University Press.[28] It weaves together disparate topics into a cohesive whole, including quantum mechanics, complexity, free will, time travel, the anthropic principle and more. Many of these interdisciplinary applications of computational complexity were later fleshed out in his article, "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity".[29] Since then, Aaronson published a book entitled Quantum Computing Since Democritus based on the course.

An article of Aaronson's, "The Limits of Quantum Computers", was published in Scientific American,[30] and he was a guest speaker at the 2007 Foundational Questions in Science Institute conference.[31] Aaronson is frequently cited in the non-academic press, such as Science News,[32] The Age,[33] ZDNet,[34] Slashdot,[35] New Scientist,[36] The New York Times,[37] and Forbes magazine.[38]

Alleged Love Communications plagiarism[edit]

Aaronson was the subject of media attention in October 2007, when he accused Love Communications, a Sydney-based advertising agency, of plagiarizing a lecture[39] he wrote on quantum mechanics in an advertisement of theirs.[40] He alleged that a commercial they made for Ricoh Australia appropriated content almost verbatim from the lecture.[41] Aaronson received an email from the agency claiming to have sought legal advice and saying they did not believe that they were in violation of his copyright.

Dissatisfied, 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 it was between that and a free printer, I think I'd take the printer."[40]


  1. ^ Aaronson, Scott. "Scott Aaronson". Qwiki.
  2. ^ a b Shetl-Optimized, "From Boston to Austin", February 28, 2016.
  3. ^ "Statement of Jewish scientists opposing the "judicial reform" in Israel". Shtetl-Optimized. February 16, 2023. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  4. ^ "Statement of concern - Signatories". Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  5. ^ "Sam Bankman-Fried and the geometry of conscience". Shtetl-Optimized. November 13, 2022. Retrieved March 28, 2023. SBF and I both grew up as nerdy kids in middle-class Jewish American families,...
  6. ^ a b c Hardesty, Larry (April 7, 2014). "The complexonaut". Retrieved April 12, 2014.
  7. ^ a b CV from Aaronson's web site
  8. ^ Aaronson, Scott (December 5, 2017). "Quickies". Shtetl-Optimized. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  9. ^ Scott Joel Aaronson at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  10. ^ "OpenAI is developing a watermark to identify work from its GPT text AI". New Scientist. 2022. Retrieved December 31, 2022.
  11. ^ "OpenAI!". Shtetl-Optimized. June 17, 2022. Retrieved December 31, 2022.
  12. ^ NSF to Honor Two Early Career Researchers in Computational Science With Alan T. Waterman Award, National Science Foundation, March 8, 2012, retrieved March 8, 2012.
  13. ^ Aaronson, Scott (2004). Limitations of Quantum Advice and One-Way Communication. Computational Complexity Conference. pp. 320–332.
  14. ^ Aaronson, Scott (2003). Quantum Certificate Complexity. Computational Complexity Conference. pp. 171–178.
  15. ^ "Future and Past Conferences". Computational Complexity Conference.
  16. ^ "Danny Lewin Best Student Paper Award". ACM.
  17. ^ "The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers: Recipient Details: Scott Aaronson". NSF.
  18. ^ "Six junior faculty named Sloan Research Fellows". MIT News. February 17, 2009. Retrieved March 18, 2024.
  19. ^ Simons Investigators Awardees, The Simons Foundation
  20. ^ 2019 ACM Fellows Recognized for Far-Reaching Accomplishments that Define the Digital Age, Association for Computing Machinery, retrieved December 11, 2019
  21. ^ 2020, Association for Computing Machinery, retrieved April 14, 2021
  22. ^ Automata, Computability and Complexity by Elaine Rich (2008) ISBN 0-13-228806-0, p. 589, section "The Complexity Zoo"
  23. ^ The Complexity Zoo page (originally) at Qwiki (a quantum physics wiki, Stanford University)
  24. ^ "Shtetl-Optimized". Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  25. ^ Horgan, John. "Scott Aaronson Answers Every Ridiculously Big Question I Throw at Him". Scientific American. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  26. ^ Aaronson, Scott. "Who Can Name the Bigger Number?". academic personal website. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  27. ^ "PHYS771 Quantum Computing Since Democritus". Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  28. ^ "Quantum Computing Democritus :: Quantum physics, quantum information and quantum computation". Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  29. ^ Aaronson, Scott (2011). "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity". arXiv:1108.1791v3 [CC cs. CC].
  30. ^ Aaronson, Scott (February 2008). "The Limits of Quantum Computers". Scientific American. 298 (3): 50–7. Bibcode:2008SciAm.298c..62A. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0308-62. PMID 18357822.
  31. ^ "Foundational Questions in Science Institute conference". The Science Show. ABC Radio. August 18, 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  32. ^ Peterson, Ivars (November 20, 1999). "Quantum Games". Science News. 156 (21). Science Service: 334–335. doi:10.2307/4012018. JSTOR 4012018. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  33. ^ Franklin, Roger (November 17, 2002). "Two-digit theory gets two fingers". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  34. ^ Judge, Peter (November 9, 2007). "D-Wave's quantum computer ready for latest demo". ZDNet. CNET. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  35. ^ Dawson, Keith (November 29, 2008). "Improving Wikipedia Coverage of Computer Science". Slashdot. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  36. ^ Brooks, Michael (March 31, 2007). "Outside of time: The quantum gravity computer". New Scientist (2597).
  37. ^ Pontin, Jason (April 8, 2007). "A Giant Leap Forward in Computing? Maybe Not". The New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  38. ^ Gomes, Lee (December 12, 2008). "Your World View Doesn't Compute". Forbes. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008.
  39. ^ "PHYS771 Lecture 9: Quantum". Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  40. ^ a b Tadros, Edmund (October 3, 2007). "Ad agency cribbed my lecture notes: professor". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  41. ^ Tadros, Edmund (December 20, 2007). "Ad company settles plagiarism complaint". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved December 1, 2008.

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