The Asymptotic Rank Conjecture and the Set Cover Conjecture are not Both True

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The Asymptotic Rank Conjecture and the Set Cover Conjecture are not Both True


Andreas Björklund, Petteri Kaski


Strassen's asymptotic rank conjecture [Progr. Math. 120 (1994)] claims a strong submultiplicative upper bound on the rank of a three-tensor obtained as an iterated Kronecker product of a constant-size base tensor. The conjecture, if true, most notably would put square matrix multiplication in quadratic time. We note here that some more-or-less unexpected algorithmic results in the area of exponential-time algorithms would also follow. Specifically, we study the so-called set cover conjecture, which states that for any $\epsilon>0$ there exists a positive integer constant $k$ such that no algorithm solves the $k$-Set Cover problem in worst-case time $\mathcal{O}((2-\epsilon)^n|\mathcal F|\operatorname{poly}(n))$. The $k$-Set Cover problem asks, given as input an $n$-element universe $U$, a family $\mathcal F$ of size-at-most-$k$ subsets of $U$, and a positive integer $t$, whether there is a subfamily of at most $t$ sets in $\mathcal F$ whose union is $U$. The conjecture was formulated by Cygan et al. in the monograph Parameterized Algorithms [Springer, 2015] but was implicit as a hypothesis already in Cygan et al. [CCC 2012, ACM Trans. Algorithms 2016], there conjectured to follow from the Strong Exponential Time Hypothesis. We prove that if the asymptotic rank conjecture is true, then the set cover conjecture is false. Using a reduction by Krauthgamer and Trabelsi [STACS 2019], in this scenario we would also get a $\mathcal{O}((2-\delta)^n)$-time randomized algorithm for some constant $\delta>0$ for another well-studied problem for which no such algorithm is known, namely that of deciding whether a given $n$-vertex directed graph has a Hamiltonian cycle.

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