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This month I am at MSRI, for the programs of Ergodic Theory and Additive Combinatorics, and Analysis on Singular Spaces, that are currently ongoing here.  This week I am giving three lectures on the correspondence principle, and on finitary versions of ergodic theory, for the introductory workshop in the former program.  The article here is broadly describing the content of these talks (which are slightly different in theme from that announced in the abstract, due to some recent developments).  [These lectures were also recorded on video and should be available from the MSRI web site within a few months.]

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This is another one of my favourite open problems, falling under the heading of inverse theorems in arithmetic combinatorics. “Direct” theorems in arithmetic combinatorics take a finite set A in a group or ring and study things like the size of its sum set A+A := \{ a+b: a,b \in A \} or product set A \cdot A := \{ ab: a,b \in A \}. For example, a typical result in this area is the sum-product theorem, which asserts that whenever A \subset {\Bbb F}_p is a subset of a finite field of prime order with 1 \leq |A| \leq p^{1-\delta}, then

\max( |A+A|, |A \cdot A| ) \geq |A|^{1+\epsilon}

for some \epsilon = \epsilon(\delta) > 0. (This particular theorem was first proven here, with an earlier partial result here; more recent and elementary proofs with civilised bounds can be found here, here or here. It has a number of applications.)

In contrast, inverse theorems in this subject start with a hypothesis that, say, the sum set A+A of an unknown set A is small, and try to deduce structural information about A. A typical goal is to completely classify all sets A for which A+A has comparable size with A. In the case of finite subsets of integers, this is Freiman’s theorem, which roughly speaking asserts that if |A+A| = O(|A|), if and only if A is a dense subset of a generalised arithmetic progression P of rank O(1), where we say that A is a dense subset of B if A \subset B and |B| = O(|A|). (The “if and only if” has to be interpreted properly; in either the “if” or the “only if” direction, the implicit constants in the conclusion depends on the implicit constants in the hypothesis, but these dependencies are not inverses of each other.) In the case of finite subsets A of an arbitrary abelian group, we have the Freiman-Green-Ruzsa theorem, which asserts that |A+A| = O(|A|) if and only if A is a dense subset of a sum P+H of a finite subgroup H and a generalised arithmetic progression P of rank O(1).

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