On the Hardness of Average-Case k-SUM

Authors Zvika Brakerski, Noah Stephens-Davidowitz, Vinod Vaikuntanathan

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Zvika Brakerski
  • Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel
Noah Stephens-Davidowitz
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA
Vinod Vaikuntanathan
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

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Zvika Brakerski, Noah Stephens-Davidowitz, and Vinod Vaikuntanathan. On the Hardness of Average-Case k-SUM. In Approximation, Randomization, and Combinatorial Optimization. Algorithms and Techniques (APPROX/RANDOM 2021). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 207, pp. 29:1-29:19, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2021)


In this work, we show the first worst-case to average-case reduction for the classical k-SUM problem. A k-SUM instance is a collection of m integers, and the goal of the k-SUM problem is to find a subset of k integers that sums to 0. In the average-case version, the m elements are chosen uniformly at random from some interval [-u,u]. We consider the total setting where m is sufficiently large (with respect to u and k), so that we are guaranteed (with high probability) that solutions must exist. In particular, m = u^{Ω(1/k)} suffices for totality. Much of the appeal of k-SUM, in particular connections to problems in computational geometry, extends to the total setting. The best known algorithm in the average-case total setting is due to Wagner (following the approach of Blum-Kalai-Wasserman), and achieves a running time of u^{Θ(1/log k)} when m = u^{Θ(1/log k)}. This beats the known (conditional) lower bounds for worst-case k-SUM, raising the natural question of whether it can be improved even further. However, in this work, we show a matching average-case lower bound, by showing a reduction from worst-case lattice problems, thus introducing a new family of techniques into the field of fine-grained complexity. In particular, we show that any algorithm solving average-case k-SUM on m elements in time u^{o(1/log k)} will give a super-polynomial improvement in the complexity of algorithms for lattice problems.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Computational complexity and cryptography
  • k-SUM
  • fine-grained complexity
  • average-case hardness


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