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Research Biography - September 2007

by Elwyn Berlekamp

In the first grade in Strasburg, Ohio, I learned to play a game called "Dots and Boxes". It was the beginning of a lifelong interest. Fifteen years later, I began to perceive some of the large amount of interesting mathematics which underlies this game.

In high school in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, I found myself less interested in athletics than many of my other classmates and the local community. When I first heard that there was a place called MIT that had no football team, I immediately aspired to go there. For me, that turned out to be a wonderful choice.

As a freshman at MIT, I was very interested in chemistry. And physics. And mathematics. And computers. I soon also became interested in economics. Unable to decide between majoring in mathematics or in electrical engineering, I pursued both. And then I continued doing so for the next five decades, and still counting.

The research highlights of my career are depicted in the sketches surrounding my picture on my home page. Most of these topics lie in the union of two broad categories: codes and games

Games such as Dots & Boxes, Domineering, Amazons, or Go include many positions which a good player quickly recognizes as splitting into two or more weakly interacting components, corresponding to different regions of the board. In many such instances, the mathematical value of the position (a sophisticated concept) is precisely equal to the sum of the values of the components, and so a mathematical decomposition occurs even though the two regions are connected and the correctness of the decomposition is quite nontrivial. In other positions which superficially look similar, the decomposition yields incorrect results because the subtle interactions between the components turn out to be stronger. Similar issues occur in many branches of mathematics (e.g., when is a group the wreath product of two of its subgroups?). They also occur in all of the sciences and in medicine: how important are the side effects and the drug-drug interactions?

Decomposition issues also lie at the heart of the design problem of computer systems, be they hardware or software or both. The crucial design decision is usually how to partition the overall system into tractable modules, and how much and what sorts of interactions to allow between the modules. I personally view combinatorial game theory as a very fruitful domain in which to explore the general issues of modularity.

Business and Finance Biography

by Elwyn Berlekamp

In 1973, my wife Jennifer Berlekamp and I along with Solomon Golomb cofounded Cyclotomics, which became the focus of my engineering and business interests. In December 1985, Eastman Kodak acquired Cyclotomics and renamed it "Kodak Berkeley Research". I then also served on the internal board for Kodak's Federal Systems Division from 1986 through 1989.

In 1984, some of Cyclotomics' small consulting contracts dealing with commercial cryptography were spun off into a new company called Cylink, which I cofounded with Jim Omura, its first CEO. Jim became CTO when we hired Lew Morris to be CEO. Cylink received venture capital funding in 1985. I became an outside member of its Board of Directors. Cylink grew to over 400 employees, and went public on NASDAQ in 1995. The stock soared and remained aloft even after Lew Morris had a debilitating stroke. We recruited a new CEO and expanded our Board of Directors to nine, to include such very well-known people as Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, as well as Wall Street wizard Jim Simons. In the mid 1990s, I served as the liaison between Cylink's Science Advisory Board and its governing Board of Directors. I was also one of the three members of the Board's audit committee. This became a more intense educational experience than anyone had expected. After we discovered some serious problems with revenue recognition, we ordered a forensic audit, and then fired our CEO, CFO, and VP of Sales. We restated earnings and worked through class-action litigation for several subsequent years. Cylink's boom, financial scandal, and bust all happened a couple of years earlier than similar but better known sagas in many other companies. Cylink survived these crises, and was eventually merged into another NASDAQ company called Safenet. More recently, Safenet merged into Gemalto.

For most of the 1980s, I served, along with John and Patti Torode, on the board of their company, IC Designs. In the early 1990s, it prospered and was acquired by Cypress Semiconductor. It became Cypress Timing Technology, Cypress' most successful division for a time.

In the late 1980s I also began studying and making small investments in a variety of instruments including private placements, angel investments, and venture capital funds. Some were successful and some were not.

In 1986, in an effort to learn more about futures and derivatives, I began spending a couple days a month consulting for Axcom, a small company whose sole business was to devise computer-based systematic trading strategies and use them to manage all trading of the Medallion Fund, of which Jim Simons was then the Pool Operator. My interactions with them lapsed for several months in the spring in 1989 while I was preoccupied with revising my part of the Kodak organization chart to optimize it after my impending exit. When I visited Axcom again that summer, I was surprised to find that their performance had deteriorated badly. Several of my earlier recommendations had been implemented incorrectly or ignored. Believing this to be a turnaround opportunity, I bought the biggest share of Axcom and became its CEO. Sandor Straus and other members of Axcom moved from Newport Beach to Berkeley. We were pleasantly surprised both by the speed and the magnitude of the turnaround. We resumed trading in late 1989. Calendar 1990 was a very good year. After deducting our fees of 5% of assets and 20% of profits, the net return to our investors that year was 55%. Jim Simons was eager for us to move to New York to be closer to the markets. But I wanted instead to devote more time to academic pursuits. So I sold out to Jim Simons at six times the price for which I had bought my Axcom interests 16 months earlier. It is now worth over a thousand times more. The Medallion fund has continued to be extraordinarily successful ever since. It is now widely regarded as THE most successful hedge fund in the world.

In 1991 I accepted the invitation of Alice and Klaus Peters to join them in cofounding their own small publishing company, A K Peters, Ltd. They were by far the best of several publishers with whom I had worked as an academic author. Their company published high-quality books and journals in mathematics and computer science, and sold them at reasonable prices. In 2006 we expanded the board from three to five to include William Randolph Hearst III and Fields Medalist David Mumford. In 2010, A.K. Peters was acquired by Taylor & Francis. They are now a part of CRC Press.

In 2008, I became chairman of a hedge fund called "Berkeley Quantitative". Our initial investors gained 17% in the first year and a half, but then endured a 15% drawdown that occurred in only a couple months. At our peak, we managed over $250 million of investors' money. In August 2009, we began trading the futures markets, primarily on the Globex exchange, using computerized algorithms. In February 2012, we discontinued trading, redeemed all accounts, and closed the fund. Those initial investors who stayed with us all 2.5 years realized a net return after fees of slightly over 1%.

In the 1990s I became more involved in nonprofits.

In 1992, I joined Tom Rodgers (an Atlanta businessman and puzzle enthusiast) and Mark Setteducati (a prominent professional magician) in organizing a gathering of fans of Martin Gardner, the writer whose Scientific American column on Mathematical Games had inspired many in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. This first "Gathering for Gardner", was followed by "Gathering for Gardner 2", and then a third. The fourth was called G4G4, followed by G4G5, G4G6, etc. In 2007 we institutionalized these events as a nonprofit 5013C corporation named G4G, through which we are continuing and expanding our efforts to increase public appreciation of the importance of curiosity-driven math and science. Tom Rogers died in April 2012, and I served as chairman of the board from 2012 to 2015.

From 1994 to 1998, I was Chairman of the Board of MSRI, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, an NSF-funded independent organization located in Berkeley. I chaired the search committee which recruited a new director, David Eisenbud, and much of a new board. We eventually succeeded in raising private donations to fund increased programs and a new auditorium. As one of the world's two leading research centers for core mathematics, MSRI rivals the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, (which is also independent of the University located in the same town). More than a dozen foreign countries have established their own national mathematics research centers based on MSRI's model.

From 2001-2003 I was Chairman of the Board of ICSI, the International Computer Sciences Research Institute, another nonprofit research organization based in Berkeley. Although ICSI is less well-known than MSRI, its budget, much of which was originally funded by European governments, is more than twice as large.

In 2004, in cooperation with the East Bay Community Foundation, I sponsored and organized a fair for nonprofit organizations focussed on K-12 education. Over 20 such organizations came to exchange ideas and to build some alliances. Many donors also came, and some increased their support for a broader range of organizations. These fairs were also attended by some influential California state legislators, and continued for five successive years.

I was elected to the NAE in 1977, and was a member of the NAE Finance Committee from 2007 to 2013. I was also elected to the NAS in Applied Mathematics in 1999, and have been an active member of the NAS Finance Committee from 2000 to 2018. I later became a founding member of its Section on Computer and Information Science, but transferred to its Mathematics Section.

Career Service Biography

(As compiled by NAS for their 2009 candidates for Council)

Born September 6, 1940, in Dover, Ohio. B.S. and M.S. (electrical engineering), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1962; Ph.D. 1964. Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, 1964-66. Visiting Assistant Professor of Statistics, University of North Carolina, 1966. Member of the Technical Staff, Bell Telephone Laboratories Mathematics Research Center 1966-71. Adjunct Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Princeton University, 1969; Visiting Lecturer, Westfield College, University of London, 1970; Professor of Mathematics and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), University of California, Berkeley, 1971-1983; Associate Chairman of EECS for Computer Science, 1975-77. Founder and President, Cyclotomics, Inc. (became Kodak Berkeley Research), 1983-89. President, Axcom Trading Advisors (manager of "Medallion Fund", now Renaissance Technology), 1989-91; Visiting Professor of Mathematics and EECS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991-93; Chairman of the Board, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, 1994-98; Chairman of the Board, International Computer Science Institute, 2000-2003. Professor of Mathematics, half-time, University of California, Berkeley, 1983-2002, Professor in the Graduate School, 2002-2006; PROFESSOR OF MATHEMATICS EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, 2006-PRESENT.

Professional Activities: Chair, Institute for Defense Analysis FOCUS Review Panel, 1972-74, 1997-99. President, IEEE Information Theory Society, 1973. Founding Committee, Computer Science Division of EECS, University of California, Berkeley, 1973; Chair, UC Berkeley Senate Committee on Computing Policy, 1975-77; Chair, DARPA Memory Technology Study Group, 1974-75; Advisory Board, Lawrence Hall of Science, 1975-77; NSF Steering Committee on Information Science and Technology, 1978-80; American Council of Education's "Public Cryptography Study Group," 1979-81; Board of Governors, American Mathematical Society, 1979-82; University of California President's Science and Academic Advisory, Livermore-Los Alamos National Laboratories, 1984-88; Co-chair, "Games of No Chance" Workshops on Combinatorial Games, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2008; Co-organizer, "Gatherings for Gardner," 1992-2008; Sponsor and Organizer - Annual Fairs for K-12 nonprofit educational institutions, 2003-present; Sponsor and Organizer - Professional Mathematical Coupon Go Tournament in Seoul, Korea, 2007. Academic Review Boards - Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2005-present; Princeton Mathematics Department, 1999-present; MIT Mathematics Department, 1997-present; The Technion Electrical Engineering Department, 1981; M.I.T. EECS Department, 1971-74. Editorial Boards - Internet Mathematics, 2003-present; Theoretical Computer Science, 1993-2000; Utilitas Mathematicae, 1982-present; Information and Control, 1967-85; Mathematical Reviews, 1979-82; IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, 1970-73; American Mathematical Monthly, 1968-71. School Boards - College Preparatory School, Oakland, CA, 1999-2002; Head-Royce School (K-12), Oakland, CA, 1986-92 Corporate Boards - Co-founder, Audit Committee: Cylink (Nasdaq CLNK), 1984-2002, merged into Safenet; Kodak Federal Systems Division, 1986-89; IC Designs (acquired by Cypress Semiconductor), 1982-93; Axcom Trading Advisors (now Renaissance Technology), 1989-91; A. K. Peters Publishing, 1992-present; Space Computers Corporation, 1998-present. Member: American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Fellow); American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow); American Mathematical Society, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Fellow). Recipient: William Lowell Putnam Intercollegiate Mathematics Competition, top 5, 1961; Eta Kappa Nu "Outstanding Young Electrical Engineer" Award, 1971; Association for Computing Machinery Lecturer for Special Interest Group on Symbolic and Algebraic Manipulation, 1975-76; IEEE Information Theory Society Golden Jubilee Award, 1998; IEEE Information Theory Society Shannon Award, 1993; IEEE Information Theory Society, Best Research Paper Award, 1969; IEEE R. W. Hamming Award, 1991; IEEE Koji Kobayashi Award for Computers and Communications, 1990; IEEE Centennial Medal, 1984; American Mathematical Society Arnold Ross Lecturer, 2004; Richard K. Guy Lecturer, 2006.

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999; member of Class III-Engineering and Applied Sciences. Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1977. National Academies Activities: NAS Finance Committee, 2000-present; NAE Finance Committee, 2007-present; PNAS Editorial Board, 2000-2002; NAS Class III Membership Committee, 2004, 2005; NAS Temporary Nominating Group for Africa, 2005-present; National Science Resources Center Advisory Board, 2005-present; NAS Award for Initiatives in Research Selection Committee, 2002; NAS Awards for the Industrial Application of Science Selection Committee, 2001; NRC Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications, 1982-1984; NRC Study on Technology, Management and Capital in Smaller Companies, 1993-95; NRC Committee for the Study on Directions for the AFOSR Mathematics and Space Sciences Directorate Related to Information Science and Technology, 2005, Advisory Committee on NAE Symposium on Electronic Voting, 2007.

Kentucky Educational Television

Kentucky Life - Elwyn Berlekamp from Keith Bell on Vimeo.