Distributed PCP Theorems for Hardness of Approximation in P

Amir Abboud, Aviad Rubinstein, Ryan Williams

We present a new distributed model of probabilistically checkable proofs (PCP). A satisfying assignment $x \in \{0,1\}^n$ to a CNF formula $\varphi$ is shared between two parties, where Alice knows $x_1, \dots, x_{n/2}$, Bob knows $x_{n/2+1},\dots,x_n$, and both parties know $\varphi$. The goal is to have Alice and Bob jointly write a PCP that $x$ satisfies $\varphi$, while exchanging little or no information. Unfortunately, this model as-is does not allow for nontrivial query complexity. Instead, we focus on a non-deterministic variant, where the players are helped by Merlin, a third party who knows all of $x$. Using our framework, we obtain, for the first time, PCP-like reductions from the Strong Exponential Time Hypothesis (SETH) to approximation problems in P. In particular, under SETH we show that there are no truly-subquadratic approximation algorithms for Bichromatic Maximum Inner Product over {0,1}-vectors, Bichromatic LCS Closest Pair over permutations, Approximate Regular Expression Matching, and Diameter in Product Metric. All our inapproximability factors are nearly-tight. In particular, for the first two problems we obtain nearly-polynomial factors of $2^{(\log n)^{1-o(1)}}$; only $(1+o(1))$-factor lower bounds (under SETH) were known before.

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