The study of Probabilistically Checkable Proofs (PCPs) is an active area in
theoretical computer science. At its heart is a new definition of the class
NP. Classically, NP is defined as the class of
decision problems such that a "Yes" answer has a short, efficiently
An example is the CLIQUE problem: Given a graph G and an integer k,
determine if G
has a complete subgraph ("clique") on at least k nodes. Note that a "Yes"
answer can be
certified by exhibiting the subgraph in question.
Work during the past decade gives a new definition of NP: it is the class of
for which a "Yes" answer has a certificate that is probabilistically
checkable by examining a constant number of bits in it. (In fact, the
strongest such result shows that the certificate can be checked by examining
only 3 bits in it!) Proving that this definition is equivalent to the
classical definition is fairly difficult.
This new definition of NP has many ramifications, one of which is that for
problems, computing approximate solutions (solutions whose cost is within a
factor 2 of the
optimum, say) is no easier than computing optimum solutions. This result
holds great interest
for those who encounter NP-hard problems in their work.
The talk will be a survey of this area, and will be self-contained.