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I have just uploaded to the arXiv the paper “An inverse theorem for an inequality of Kneser“, submitted to a special issue of the Proceedings of the Steklov Institute of Mathematics in honour of Sergei Konyagin. It concerns an inequality of Kneser discussed previously in this blog, namely that

whenever are compact non-empty subsets of a compact connected additive group with probability Haar measure . (A later result of Kemperman extended this inequality to the nonabelian case.) This inequality is non-trivial in the regime

The connectedness of is essential, otherwise one could form counterexamples involving proper subgroups of of positive measure. In the blog post, I indicated how this inequality (together with a more “robust” strengthening of it) could be deduced from submodularity inequalities such as

which in turn easily follows from the identity and the inclusion , combined with the inclusion-exclusion formula.

In the non-trivial regime (2), equality can be attained in (1), for instance by taking to be the unit circle and to be arcs in that circle (obeying (2)). A bit more generally, if is an arbitrary connected compact abelian group and is a non-trivial character (i.e., a continuous homomorphism), then must be surjective (as has no non-trivial connected subgroups), and one can take and for some arcs in that circle (again choosing the measures of these arcs to obey (2)). The main result of this paper is an inverse theorem that asserts that this is the only way in which equality can occur in (1) (assuming (2)); furthermore, if (1) is close to being satisfied with equality and (2) holds, then must be close (in measure) to an example of the above form . Actually, for technical reasons (and for the applications we have in mind), it is important to establish an inverse theorem not just for (1), but for the more robust version mentioned earlier (in which the sumset is replaced by the partial sumset consisting of “popular” sums).

Roughly speaking, the idea is as follows. Let us informally call a *critical pair* if (2) holds and the inequality (1) (or more precisely, a robust version of this inequality) is almost obeyed with equality. The notion of a critical pair obeys some useful closure properties. Firstly, it is symmetric in , and invariant with respect to translation of either or . Furthermore, from the submodularity inequality (3), one can show that if and are critical pairs (with and positive), then and are also critical pairs. (Note that this is consistent with the claim that critical pairs only occur when come from arcs of a circle.) Similarly, from associativity , one can show that if and are critical pairs, then so are and .

One can combine these closure properties to obtain further ones. For instance, suppose is such that , so that all translates , intersect each other in a set of positive measure. Suppose also that is a critical pair and . Then (cheating a little bit), one can show that is also a critical pair, basically because is the union of the , , the are all critical pairs, and the all intersect each other. This argument doesn’t quite work as stated because one has to apply the closure property under union an uncountable number of times, but it turns out that if one works with the robust version of sumsets and uses a random sampling argument to approximate by the union of finitely many of the , then the argument can be made to work.

Using all of these closure properties, it turns out that one can start with an arbitrary critical pair and end up with a small set such that and are also critical pairs for all (say), where is the -fold sumset of . (Intuitively, if are thought of as secretly coming from the pullback of arcs by some character , then should be the pullback of a much shorter arc by the same character.) In particular, exhibits linear growth, in that for all . One can now use standard technology from inverse sumset theory to show first that has a very large Fourier coefficient (and thus is biased with respect to some character ), and secondly that is in fact almost of the form for some arc , from which it is not difficult to conclude similar statements for and and thus finish the proof of the inverse theorem.

In order to make the above argument rigorous, one has to be more precise about what the modifier “almost” means in the definition of a critical pair. I chose to do this in the language of “cheap” nonstandard analysis (aka asymptotic analysis), as discussed in this previous blog post; one could also have used the full-strength version of nonstandard analysis, but this does not seem to convey any substantial advantages. (One can also work in a more traditional “non-asymptotic” framework, but this requires one to keep much more careful account of various small error terms and leads to a messier argument.)

*[Update, Nov 15: Corrected the attribution of the inequality (1) to Kneser instead of Kemperman. Thanks to John Griesmer for pointing out the error.]*

A core foundation of the subject now known as arithmetic combinatorics (and particularly the subfield of *additive combinatorics*) are the elementary sum set estimates (sometimes known as “Ruzsa calculus”) that relate the cardinality of various sum sets

and difference sets

as well as iterated sumsets such as , , and so forth. Here, are finite non-empty subsets of some additive group (classically one took or , but nowadays one usually considers more general additive groups). Some basic estimates in this vein are the following:

Lemma 1 (Ruzsa covering lemma)Let be finite non-empty subsets of . Then may be covered by at most translates of .

*Proof:* Consider a maximal set of disjoint translates of by elements . These translates have cardinality , are disjoint, and lie in , so there are at most of them. By maximality, for any , must intersect at least one of the selected , thus , and the claim follows.

Lemma 2 (Ruzsa triangle inequality)Let be finite non-empty subsets of . Then .

*Proof:* Consider the addition map from to . Every element of has a preimage of this map of cardinality at least , thanks to the obvious identity for each . Since has cardinality , the claim follows.

Such estimates (which are covered, incidentally, in Section 2 of my book with Van Vu) are particularly useful for controlling finite sets of small doubling, in the sense that for some bounded . (There are deeper theorems, most notably Freiman’s theorem, which give more control than what elementary Ruzsa calculus does, however the known bounds in the latter theorem are worse than polynomial in (although it is conjectured otherwise), whereas the elementary estimates are almost all polynomial in .)

However, there are some settings in which the standard sum set estimates are not quite applicable. One such setting is the continuous setting, where one is dealing with bounded open sets in an additive Lie group (e.g. or a torus ) rather than a finite setting. Here, one can largely replicate the discrete sum set estimates by working with a Haar measure in place of cardinality; this is the approach taken for instance in this paper of mine. However, there is another setting, which one might dub the “discretised” setting (as opposed to the “discrete” setting or “continuous” setting), in which the sets remain finite (or at least discretisable to be finite), but for which there is a certain amount of “roundoff error” coming from the discretisation. As a typical example (working now in a non-commutative multiplicative setting rather than an additive one), consider the orthogonal group of orthogonal matrices, and let be the matrices obtained by starting with all of the orthogonal matrice in and rounding each coefficient of each matrix in this set to the nearest multiple of , for some small . This forms a finite set (whose cardinality grows as like a certain negative power of ). In the limit , the set is not a set of small doubling in the discrete sense. However, is still close to in a metric sense, being contained in the -neighbourhood of . Another key example comes from graphs of maps from a subset of one additive group to another . If is “approximately additive” in the sense that for all , is close to in some metric, then might not have small doubling in the discrete sense (because could take a large number of values), but could be considered a set of small doubling in a discretised sense.

One would like to have a sum set (or product set) theory that can handle these cases, particularly in “high-dimensional” settings in which the standard methods of passing back and forth between continuous, discrete, or discretised settings behave poorly from a quantitative point of view due to the exponentially large doubling constant of balls. One way to do this is to impose a translation invariant metric on the underlying group (reverting back to additive notation), and replace the notion of cardinality by that of metric entropy. There are a number of almost equivalent ways to define this concept:

Definition 3Let be a metric space, let be a subset of , and let be a radius.

- The
packing numberis the largest number of points one can pack inside such that the balls are disjoint.- The
internal covering numberis the fewest number of points such that the balls cover .- The
external covering numberis the fewest number of points such that the balls cover .- The
metric entropyis the largest number of points one can find in that are -separated, thus for all .

It is an easy exercise to verify the inequalities

for any , and that is non-increasing in and non-decreasing in for the three choices (but monotonicity in can fail for !). It turns out that the external covering number is slightly more convenient than the other notions of metric entropy, so we will abbreviate . The cardinality can be viewed as the limit of the entropies as .

If we have the bounded doubling property that is covered by translates of for each , and one has a Haar measure on which assigns a positive finite mass to each ball, then any of the above entropies is comparable to , as can be seen by simple volume packing arguments. Thus in the bounded doubling setting one can usually use the measure-theoretic sum set theory to derive entropy-theoretic sumset bounds (see e.g. this paper of mine for an example of this). However, it turns out that even in the absence of bounded doubling, one still has an entropy analogue of most of the elementary sum set theory, except that one has to accept some degradation in the radius parameter by some absolute constant. Such losses can be acceptable in applications in which the underlying sets are largely “transverse” to the balls , so that the -entropy of is largely independent of ; this is a situation which arises in particular in the case of graphs discussed above, if one works with “vertical” metrics whose balls extend primarily in the vertical direction. (I hope to present a specific application of this type here in the near future.)

Henceforth we work in an additive group equipped with a translation-invariant metric . (One can also generalise things slightly by allowing the metric to attain the values or , without changing much of the analysis below.) By the Heine-Borel theorem, any precompact set will have finite entropy for any . We now have analogues of the two basic Ruzsa lemmas above:

Lemma 4 (Ruzsa covering lemma)Let be precompact non-empty subsets of , and let . Then may be covered by at most translates of .

*Proof:* Let be a maximal set of points such that the sets are all disjoint. Then the sets are disjoint in and have entropy , and furthermore any ball of radius can intersect at most one of the . We conclude that , so . If , then must intersect one of the , so , and the claim follows.

Lemma 5 (Ruzsa triangle inequality)Let be precompact non-empty subsets of , and let . Then .

*Proof:* Consider the addition map from to . The domain may be covered by product balls . Every element of has a preimage of this map which projects to a translate of , and thus must meet at least of these product balls. However, if two elements of are separated by a distance of at least , then no product ball can intersect both preimages. We thus see that , and the claim follows.

Below the fold we will record some further metric entropy analogues of sum set estimates (basically redoing much of Chapter 2 of my book with Van Vu). Unfortunately there does not seem to be a direct way to abstractly deduce metric entropy results from their sum set analogues (basically due to the failure of a certain strong version of Freiman’s theorem, as discussed in this previous post); nevertheless, the proofs of the discrete arguments are elementary enough that they can be modified with a small amount of effort to handle the entropy case. (In fact, there should be a very general model-theoretic framework in which both the discrete and entropy arguments can be processed in a unified manner; see this paper of Hrushovski for one such framework.)

It is also likely that many of the arguments here extend to the non-commutative setting, but for simplicity we will not pursue such generalisations here.

It turns out to be a favourable week or two for me to finally finish a number of papers that had been at a nearly completed stage for a while. I have just uploaded to the arXiv my article “Sumset and inverse sumset theorems for Shannon entropy“, submitted to Combinatorics, Probability, and Computing. This paper evolved from a “deleted scene” in my book with Van Vu entitled “Entropy sumset estimates“. In those notes, we developed analogues of the standard Plünnecke-Ruzsa sumset estimates (which relate quantities such as the cardinalities of the sum and difference sets of two finite sets in an additive group to each other), to the entropy setting, in which the finite sets are replaced instead with discrete random variables taking values in that group G, and the (logarithm of the) cardinality |A| is replaced with the Shannon entropy

This quantity measures the information content of X; for instance, if , then it will take k bits on the average to store the value of X (thus a string of n independent copies of X will require about nk bits of storage in the asymptotic limit ). The relationship between entropy and cardinality is that if X is the uniform distribution on a finite non-empty set A, then . If instead X is non-uniformly distributed on A, one has , thanks to Jensen’s inequality.

It turns out that many estimates on sumsets have entropy analogues, which resemble the “logarithm” of the sumset estimates. For instance, the trivial bounds

have the entropy analogue

whenever X, Y are independent discrete random variables in an additive group; this is not difficult to deduce from standard entropy inequalities. Slightly more non-trivially, the sum set estimate

established by Ruzsa, has an entropy analogue

,

and similarly for a number of other standard sumset inequalities in the literature (e.g. the Rusza triangle inequality, the Plünnecke-Rusza inequality, and the Balog-Szemeredi-Gowers theorem, though the entropy analogue of the latter requires a little bit of care to state). These inequalities can actually be deduced fairly easily from elementary arithmetic identities, together with standard entropy inequalities, most notably the *submodularity inequality*

whenever X,Y,Z,W are discrete random variables such that X and Y each determine W separately (thus for some deterministic functions f, g) and X and Y determine Z jointly (thus for some deterministic function f). For instance, if X,Y,Z are independent discrete random variables in an additive group G, then and each determine separately, and determine jointly, leading to the inequality

which soon leads to the *entropy Rusza triangle inequality*

which is an analogue of the combinatorial Ruzsa triangle inequality

All of this was already in the unpublished notes with Van, though I include it in this paper in order to place it in the literature. The main novelty of the paper, though, is to consider the entropy analogue of Freiman’s theorem, which classifies those sets A for which . Here, the analogous problem is to classify the random variables such that , where are independent copies of X. Let us say that X has *small doubling* if this is the case.

For instance, the uniform distribution U on a finite subgroup H of G has small doubling (in fact in this case). In a similar spirit, the uniform distribution on a (generalised) arithmetic progression P also has small doubling, as does the uniform distribution on a coset progression H+P. Also, if X has small doubling, and Y has bounded entropy, then X+Y also has small doubling, even if Y and X are not independent. The main theorem is that these are the only cases:

Theorem 1.(Informal statement) X has small doubling if and only if for some uniform distribution U on a coset progression (of bounded rank), and Y has bounded entropy.

For instance, suppose that X was the uniform distribution on a dense subset A of a finite group G. Then Theorem 1 asserts that X is close in a “transport metric” sense to the uniform distribution U on G, in the sense that it is possible to rearrange or transport the probability distribution of X to the probability distribution of U (or vice versa) by shifting each component of the mass of X by an amount Y which has bounded entropy (which basically means that it primarily ranges inside a set of bounded cardinality). The way one shows this is by randomly translating the mass of X around by a few random shifts to approximately uniformise the distribution, and then deal with the residual fluctuation in the distribution by hand. Theorem 1 as a whole is established by using the Freiman theorem in the combinatorial setting combined with various elementary convexity and entropy inequality arguments to reduce matters to the above model case when X is supported inside a finite group G and has near-maximal entropy.

I also show a variant of the above statement: if X, Y are independent and , then we have (i.e. X has the same distribution as Y+Z for some Z of bounded entropy (not necessarily independent of X or Y). Thus if two random variables are additively related to each other, then they can be additively transported to each other by using a bounded amount of entropy.

In the last part of the paper I relate these discrete entropies to their continuous counterparts

where X is now a continuous random variable on the real line with density function . There are a number of sum set inequalities known in this setting, for instance

,

for independent copies of a finite entropy random variable X, with equality if and only if X is a Gaussian. Using this inequality and Theorem 1, I show a discrete version, namely that

,

whenever and are independent copies of a random variable in (or any other torsion-free abelian group) whose entropy is sufficiently large depending on . This is somewhat analogous to the classical sumset inequality

though notice that we have a gain of just rather than here, the point being that there is a Gaussian counterexample in the entropy setting which does not have a combinatorial analogue (except perhaps in the high-dimensional limit). The main idea is to use Theorem 1 to trap most of X inside a coset progression, at which point one can use Fourier-analytic additive combinatorial tools to show that the distribution is “smooth” in some non-trivial direction r, which can then be used to approximate the discrete distribution by a continuous one.

I also conjecture more generally that the entropy monotonicity inequalities established by Artstein, Barthe, Ball, and Naor in the continuous case also hold in the above sense in the discrete case, though my method of proof breaks down because I no longer can assume small doubling.

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