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Let ${\lambda}$ denote the Liouville function. The prime number theorem is equivalent to the estimate

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq x} \lambda(n) = o(x)$

as ${x \rightarrow \infty}$, that is to say that ${\lambda}$ exhibits cancellation on large intervals such as ${[1,x]}$. This result can be improved to give cancellation on shorter intervals. For instance, using the known zero density estimates for the Riemann zeta function, one can establish that

$\displaystyle \int_X^{2X} |\sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n)|\ dx = o( HX ) \ \ \ \ \ (1)$

as ${X \rightarrow \infty}$ if ${X^{1/6+\varepsilon} \leq H \leq X}$ for some fixed ${\varepsilon>0}$; I believe this result is due to Ramachandra (see also Exercise 21 of this previous blog post), and in fact one could obtain a better error term on the right-hand side that for instance gained an arbitrary power of ${\log X}$. On the Riemann hypothesis (or the weaker density hypothesis), it was known that the ${X^{1/6+\varepsilon}}$ could be lowered to ${X^\varepsilon}$.

Early this year, there was a major breakthrough by Matomaki and Radziwill, who (among other things) showed that the asymptotic (1) was in fact valid for any ${H = H(X)}$ with ${H \leq X}$ that went to infinity as ${X \rightarrow \infty}$, thus yielding cancellation on extremely short intervals. This has many further applications; for instance, this estimate, or more precisely its extension to other “non-pretentious” bounded multiplicative functions, was a key ingredient in my recent solution of the Erdös discrepancy problem, as well as in obtaining logarithmically averaged cases of Chowla’s conjecture, such as

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq x} \frac{\lambda(n) \lambda(n+1)}{n} = o(\log x). \ \ \ \ \ (2)$

It is of interest to twist the above estimates by phases such as the linear phase ${n \mapsto e(\alpha n) := e^{2\pi i \alpha n}}$. In 1937, Davenport showed that

$\displaystyle \sup_\alpha |\sum_{n \leq x} \lambda(n) e(\alpha n)| \ll_A x \log^{-A} x$

which of course improves the prime number theorem. Recently with Matomaki and Radziwill, we obtained a common generalisation of this estimate with (1), showing that

$\displaystyle \sup_\alpha \int_X^{2X} |\sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n) e(\alpha n)|\ dx = o(HX) \ \ \ \ \ (3)$

as ${X \rightarrow \infty}$, for any ${H = H(X) \leq X}$ that went to infinity as ${X \rightarrow \infty}$. We were able to use this estimate to obtain an averaged form of Chowla’s conjecture.

In that paper, we asked whether one could improve this estimate further by moving the supremum inside the integral, that is to say to establish the bound

$\displaystyle \int_X^{2X} \sup_\alpha |\sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n) e(\alpha n)|\ dx = o(HX) \ \ \ \ \ (4)$

as ${X \rightarrow \infty}$, for any ${H = H(X) \leq X}$ that went to infinity as ${X \rightarrow \infty}$. This bound is asserting that ${\lambda}$ is locally Fourier-uniform on most short intervals; it can be written equivalently in terms of the “local Gowers ${U^2}$ norm” as

$\displaystyle \int_X^{2X} \sum_{1 \leq a \leq H} |\sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n) \lambda(n+a)|^2\ dx = o( H^3 X )$

from which one can see that this is another averaged form of Chowla’s conjecture (stronger than the one I was able to prove with Matomaki and Radziwill, but a consequence of the unaveraged Chowla conjecture). If one inserted such a bound into the machinery I used to solve the Erdös discrepancy problem, it should lead to further averaged cases of Chowla’s conjecture, such as

$\displaystyle \sum_{n \leq x} \frac{\lambda(n) \lambda(n+1) \lambda(n+2)}{n} = o(\log x), \ \ \ \ \ (5)$

though I have not fully checked the details of this implication. It should also have a number of new implications for sign patterns of the Liouville function, though we have not explored these in detail yet.

One can write (4) equivalently in the form

$\displaystyle \int_X^{2X} \sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n) e( \alpha(x) n + \beta(x) )\ dx = o(HX) \ \ \ \ \ (6)$

uniformly for all ${x}$-dependent phases ${\alpha(x), \beta(x)}$. In contrast, (3) is equivalent to the subcase of (6) when the linear phase coefficient ${\alpha(x)}$ is independent of ${x}$. This dependency of ${\alpha(x)}$ on ${x}$ seems to necessitate some highly nontrivial additive combinatorial analysis of the function ${x \mapsto \alpha(x)}$ in order to establish (4) when ${H}$ is small. To date, this analysis has proven to be elusive, but I would like to record what one can do with more classical methods like Vaughan’s identity, namely:

Proposition 1 The estimate (4) (or equivalently (6)) holds in the range ${X^{2/3+\varepsilon} \leq H \leq X}$ for any fixed ${\varepsilon>0}$. (In fact one can improve the right-hand side by an arbitrary power of ${\log X}$ in this case.)

The values of ${H}$ in this range are far too large to yield implications such as new cases of the Chowla conjecture, but it appears that the ${2/3}$ exponent is the limit of “classical” methods (at least as far as I was able to apply them), in the sense that one does not do any combinatorial analysis on the function ${x \mapsto \alpha(x)}$, nor does one use modern equidistribution results on “Type III sums” that require deep estimates on Kloosterman-type sums. The latter may shave a little bit off of the ${2/3}$ exponent, but I don’t see how one would ever hope to go below ${1/2}$ without doing some non-trivial combinatorics on the function ${x \mapsto \alpha(x)}$. UPDATE: I have come across this paper of Zhan which uses mean-value theorems for L-functions to lower the ${2/3}$ exponent to ${5/8}$.

Let me now sketch the proof of the proposition, omitting many of the technical details. We first remark that known estimates on sums of the Liouville function (or similar functions such as the von Mangoldt function) in short arithmetic progressions, based on zero-density estimates for Dirichlet ${L}$-functions, can handle the “major arc” case of (4) (or (6)) where ${\alpha}$ is restricted to be of the form ${\alpha = \frac{a}{q} + O( X^{-1/6-\varepsilon} )}$ for ${q = O(\log^{O(1)} X)}$ (the exponent here being of the same numerology as the ${X^{1/6+\varepsilon}}$ exponent in the classical result of Ramachandra, tied to the best zero density estimates currently available); for instance a modification of the arguments in this recent paper of Koukoulopoulos would suffice. Thus we can restrict attention to “minor arc” values of ${\alpha}$ (or ${\alpha(x)}$, using the interpretation of (6)).

Next, one breaks up ${\lambda}$ (or the closely related Möbius function) into Dirichlet convolutions using one of the standard identities (e.g. Vaughan’s identity or Heath-Brown’s identity), as discussed for instance in this previous post (which is focused more on the von Mangoldt function, but analogous identities exist for the Liouville and Möbius functions). The exact choice of identity is not terribly important, but the upshot is that ${\lambda(n)}$ can be decomposed into ${\log^{O(1)} X}$ terms, each of which is either of the “Type I” form

$\displaystyle \sum_{d \sim D; m \sim M: dm=n} a_d$

for some coefficients ${a_d}$ that are roughly of logarithmic size on the average, and scales ${D, M}$ with ${D \ll X^{2/3}}$ and ${DM \sim X}$, or else of the “Type II” form

$\displaystyle \sum_{d \sim D; m \sim M: dm=n} a_d b_m$

for some coefficients ${a_d, b_m}$ that are roughly of logarithmic size on the average, and scales ${D,M}$ with ${X^{1/3} \ll D,M \ll X^{2/3}}$ and ${DM \sim X}$. As discussed in the previous post, the ${2/3}$ exponent is a natural barrier in these identities if one is unwilling to also consider “Type III” type terms which are roughly of the shape of the third divisor function ${\tau_3(n) := \sum_{d_1d_2d_3=1} 1}$.

A Type I sum makes a contribution to ${ \sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n) e( \alpha(x) n + \beta(x) )}$ that can be bounded (via Cauchy-Schwarz) in terms of an expression such as

$\displaystyle \sum_{d \sim D} | \sum_{x/d \leq m \leq x/d+H/d} e(\alpha(x) dm )|^2.$

The inner sum exhibits a lot of cancellation unless ${\alpha(x) d}$ is within ${O(D/H)}$ of an integer. (Here, “a lot” should be loosely interpreted as “gaining many powers of ${\log X}$ over the trivial bound”.) Since ${H}$ is significantly larger than ${D}$, standard Vinogradov-type manipulations (see e.g. Lemma 13 of these previous notes) show that this bad case occurs for many ${d}$ only when ${\alpha}$ is “major arc”, which is the case we have specifically excluded. This lets us dispose of the Type I contributions.

A Type II sum makes a contribution to ${ \sum_{x \leq n \leq x+H} \lambda(n) e( \alpha(x) n + \beta(x) )}$ roughly of the form

$\displaystyle \sum_{d \sim D} | \sum_{x/d \leq m \leq x/d+H/d} b_m e(\alpha(x) dm)|.$

We can break this up into a number of sums roughly of the form

$\displaystyle \sum_{d = d_0 + O( H / M )} | \sum_{x/d_0 \leq m \leq x/d_0 + H/D} b_m e(\alpha(x) dm)|$

for ${d_0 \sim D}$; note that the ${d}$ range is non-trivial because ${H}$ is much larger than ${M}$. Applying the usual bilinear sum Cauchy-Schwarz methods (e.g. Theorem 14 of these notes) we conclude that there is a lot of cancellation unless one has ${\alpha(x) = a/q + O( \frac{X \log^{O(1)} X}{H^2} )}$ for some ${q = O(\log^{O(1)} X)}$. But with ${H \geq X^{2/3+\varepsilon}}$, ${X \log^{O(1)} X/H^2}$ is well below the threshold ${X^{-1/6-\varepsilon}}$ for the definition of major arc, so we can exclude this case and obtain the required cancellation.

Ben Green, Tamar Ziegler and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “An inverse theorem for the Gowers $U^4$ norm“.  This paper establishes the next case of the inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm for the integers (after the $U^3$ case, which was done by Ben and myself a few years ago).  This conjecture has a number of combinatorial and number-theoretic consequences, for instance by combining this new inverse theorem with previous results, one can now get the correct asymptotic for the number of arithmetic progressions of primes of length five in any large interval $[N] = \{1,\ldots,N\}$.

To state the inverse conjecture properly requires a certain amount of notation.  Given a function $f: {\Bbb Z} \to {\Bbb C}$ and a shift $h \in {\Bbb Z}$, define the multiplicative derivative

$\Delta_h f(x) := f(x+h) \overline{f(x)}$

and then define the Gowers $U^{s+1}[N]$ norm of a function $f: [N] \to {\Bbb C}$ to (essentially) be the quantity

$\| f\|_{U^{s+1}[N]} := ({\Bbb E}_{h_1,\ldots,h_{s+1} \in [-N,N]} {\Bbb E}_{x \in [N]} |\Delta_{h_1} \ldots \Delta_{h_{s+1}} f(x)|)^{1/2^{s+1}},$

where we extend f by zero outside of $[N]$.  (Actually, we use a slightly different normalisation to ensure that the function 1 has a $U^{s+1}$ norm of 1, but never mind this for now.)

Informally, the Gowers norm $\|f\|_{U^{s+1}[N]}$ measures the amount of bias present in the $(s+1)^{st}$ multiplicative derivatives of $f$.  In particular, if $f = e(P) := e^{2\pi i P}$ for some polynomial $P: {\Bbb Z} \to {\Bbb C}$, then the $(s+1)^{th}$ derivative of $f$ is identically 1, and so is the Gowers norm.

However, polynomial phases are not the only functions with large Gowers norm.  For instance, consider the function $f(n) := e( \lfloor \sqrt{2} n \rfloor \sqrt{3} n )$, which is what we call a quadratic bracket polynomial phase.  This function isn’t quite quadratic, but it is close enough to being quadratic (because one has the approximate linearity relationship $\lfloor x+y \rfloor = \lfloor x \rfloor + \lfloor y \rfloor$ holding a good fraction of the time) that it turns out that third derivative is trivial fairly often, and the Gowers norm $\|f\|_{U^3[N]}$ is comparable to 1.  This bracket polynomial phase can be modeled as a nilsequence $n \mapsto F( g(n) \Gamma )$, where $n \mapsto g(n) \Gamma$ is a polynomial orbit on a nilmanifold $G/\Gamma$, which in this case has step 2.  (The function F is only piecewise smooth, due to the discontinuity in the floor function $\lfloor \rfloor$, so strictly speaking we would classify this as an almost nilsequence rather than a nilsequence, but let us ignore this technical issue here.)  In fact, there is a very close relationship between nilsequences and bracket polynomial phases, but I will detail this in a later post.

The inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm, GI(s), asserts that such nilsequences are the only obstruction to the Gowers norm being small.  Roughly speaking, it goes like this:

Inverse conjecture, GI(s). (Informal statement)  Suppose that $f: [N] \to {\Bbb C}$ is bounded but has large $U^{s+1}[N]$ norm.  Then there is an s-step nilsequence $n \mapsto F( g(n) \Gamma )$ of “bounded complexity” that correlates with f.

This conjecture is trivial for s=0, is a short consequence of Fourier analysis when s=1, and was proven for s=2 by Ben and myself.  In this paper we establish the s=3 case.  An equivalent formulation in this case is that any bounded function $f$ of large $U^4$ norm must correlate with a “bracket cubic phase”, which is the product of a bounded number of phases from the following list

$e( \alpha n^3 + \beta n^2 + \gamma n), e( \lfloor \alpha n \rfloor \beta n^2 ), e( \lfloor \alpha n \rfloor \lfloor \beta n \rfloor \gamma n ), e( \lfloor \alpha n \rfloor \beta n )$ (*)

for various real numbers $\alpha,\beta,\gamma$.

It appears that our methods also work in higher step, though for technical reasons it is convenient to make a number of adjustments to our arguments to do so, most notably a switch from standard analysis to non-standard analysis, about which I hope to say more later.  But there are a number of simplifications available on the s=3 case which make the argument significantly shorter, and so we will be writing the higher s argument in a separate paper.

The arguments largely follow those for the s=2 case (which in turn are based on this paper of Gowers).  Two major new ingredients are a deployment of a normal form and equidistribution theory for bracket quadratic phases, and a combinatorial decomposition of frequency space which we call the sunflower decomposition.  I will sketch these ideas below the fold.

For a number of reasons, including the start of the summer break for me and my coauthors, a number of papers that we have been working on are being released this week.  For instance, Ben Green and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “An equivalence between inverse sumset theorems and inverse conjectures for the $U^3$ norm“, submitted to Math. Proc. Camb. Phil. Soc..  The main result of this short paper (which was briefly announced in this earlier post) is a connection between two types of inverse theorems in additive combinatorics, namely the inverse sumset theorems of Freiman type, and inverse theorems for the Gowers uniformity norm, and more specifically, for the $U^3$ norm

$\|f\|_{U^3(G)}^8 := {\Bbb E}_{x,a,b,c \in G} f(x) \overline{f(x+a)} \overline{f(x+b)} \overline{f(x+c)} f(x+a+b) f(x+a+c) f(x+b+c) \overline{f(x+a+b+c)}$

on finite additive group G, where $f: G \to {\Bbb C}$ is a complex-valued function.

As usual, the connection is easiest to state in a finite field model such as $G = {\Bbb F}_2^n$.  In this case, we have the following inverse sumset theorem of Ruzsa:

Theorem 1. If $A \subset {\Bbb F}_2^n$ is such that $|A+A| \leq K|A|$, then A can be covered by a translate of a subspace of ${\Bbb F}_2^n$ of cardinality at most $K^2 2^{K^4} |A|$.

The constant $K^2 2^{K^4}$ has been improved for large $K$ in a sequence of papers, from $K 2^{\lfloor K^3 \rfloor-1}$ by Ruzsa, $K^2 2^{K^2-2}$ by Green-Ruzsa, $2^{O(K^{3/2} \log(1+K)}$ by Sanders, $2^{2K+O(\sqrt{K} \log K})$ by Green and myself, and finally $2^{2K+O(\log K)}$ by Konyagin (private communication) which is sharp except for the precise value of the O() implied constant (as can be seen by considering the example when A consists of about 2K independent elements).  However, it is conjectured that the polynomial loss can be removed entirely if one modifies the conclusion slightly:

Conjecture 1. (Polynomial Freiman-Ruzsa conjecture for ${\Bbb F}_2^n$.) If $A \subset {\Bbb F}_2^n$ is such that $|A+A| \leq K|A|$, then A can be covered by $O(K^{O(1)})$ translates of subspaces of ${\Bbb F}_2^n$ of cardinality at most |A|.

This conjecture was verified for downsets by Green and myself, but is open in general.   This conjecture has a number of equivalent formulations; see this paper of Green for more discussion.  In this previous post we show that a stronger version of this conjecture fails.

Meanwhile, for the Gowers norm, we have the following inverse theorem, due to Samorodnitsky:

Theorem 2. Let $f: {\Bbb F}_2^n \to [-1,1]$ be a function whose $U^3$ norm is at least 1/K.  Then there exists a quadratic polynomial $Q: {\Bbb F}_2^n \to {\Bbb F}_2$ such that $|{\Bbb E}_{x \in {\Bbb F}_2^n} f(x) (-1)^{Q(x)}| \geq \exp( - O(K)^{O(1)} )$.

Note that the quadratic phases $(-1)^{Q(x)}$ are the only functions taking values in [-1,1] whose $U^3$ norm attains its maximal value of 1.

It is conjectured that the exponentially weak correlation here can be strengthened to a polynomial one:

Conjecture 2. (Polynomial inverse conjecture for the $U^3({\Bbb F}_2^n)$ norm). Let $f: {\Bbb F}_2^n \to [-1,1]$ be a function whose $U^3$ norm is at least 1/K.  Then there exists a quadratic polynomial $Q: {\Bbb F}_2^n \to {\Bbb F}_2$ such that $|{\Bbb E}_{x \in {\Bbb F}_2^n} f(x) (-1)^{Q(x)}| \geq K^{-O(1)}$.

The first main result of this paper is

Theorem 3. Conjecture 1 and Conjecture 2 are equivalent.

This result was also independently observed by Shachar Lovett (private communication).  We also establish an analogous result for the cyclic group ${\Bbb Z}/N{\Bbb Z}$, in which the notion of polynomial is replaced by that of a subexponential $\exp(K^{o(1)})$, and in which the notion of a quadratic polynomial is replaced by a 2-step nilsequence; the precise statement is a bit technical and will not be given here.  We also observe a partial partial analogue of the correpsondence between inverse sumset theorems and Gowers norms in the higher order case, in particular observing that $U^4$ inverse theorems imply a certain rigidity result for “Freiman-quadratic polynomials” (a quadratic version of Conjecture 3 below).

Below the fold, we sketch the proof of Theorem 3.

Vitaly Bergelson, Tamar Ziegler, and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper “An inverse theorem for the uniformity seminorms associated with the action of $F^\infty_p$“. This paper establishes the ergodic inverse theorems that are needed in our other recent paper to establish the inverse conjecture for the Gowers norms over finite fields in high characteristic (and to establish a partial result in low characteristic), as follows:

Theorem. Let ${\Bbb F}$ be a finite field of characteristic p.  Suppose that $X = (X,{\mathcal B},\mu)$ is a probability space with an ergodic measure-preserving action $(T_g)_{g \in {\Bbb F}^\omega}$ of ${\Bbb F}^\omega$.  Let $f \in L^\infty(X)$ be such that the Gowers-Host-Kra seminorm $\|f\|_{U^k(X)}$ (defined in a previous post) is non-zero.

1. In the high-characteristic case $p \geq k$, there exists a phase polynomial g of degree <k (as defined in the previous post) such that $|\int_X f \overline{g}\ d\mu| > 0$.
2. In general characteristic, there exists a phase polynomial of degree <C(k) for some C(k) depending only on k such that $|\int_X f \overline{g}\ d\mu| > 0$.

This theorem is closely analogous to a similar theorem of Host and Kra on ergodic actions of ${\Bbb Z}$, in which the role of phase polynomials is played by functions that arise from nilsystem factors of X.  Indeed, our arguments rely heavily on the machinery of Host and Kra.

The paper is rather technical (60+ pages!) and difficult to describe in detail here, but I will try to sketch out (in very broad brush strokes) what the key steps in the proof of part 2 of the theorem are.  (Part 1 is similar but requires a more delicate analysis at various stages, keeping more careful track of the degrees of various polynomials.)

Tamar Ziegler and I have just uploaded to the arXiv our paper, “The inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm over finite fields via the correspondence principle“, submitted to Analysis & PDE.  As announced a few months ago in this blog post, this paper establishes (most of) the inverse conjecture for the Gowers norm from an ergodic theory analogue of this conjecture (in a forthcoming paper by Vitaly Bergelson, Tamar Ziegler, and myself, which should be ready shortly), using a variant of the Furstenberg correspondence principle.  Our papers were held up for a while due to some unexpected technical difficulties arising in the low characteristic case; as a consequence, our paper only establishes the full inverse conjecture in the high characteristic case $p \geq k$, and gives a partial result in the low characteristic case $p < k$.

In the rest of this post, I would like to describe the inverse conjecture (in both combinatorial and ergodic forms), and sketch how one deduces one from the other via the correspondence principle (together with two additional ingredients, namely a statistical sampling lemma and a local testability result for polynomials).