Higher order Fourier analysis

Balazs Szegedy, University of Toronto
Fine Hall 314

In a famous paper Timothy Gowers introduced a sequence of norms $U(k)$ defined for functions on abelian groups. He used these norms to give quantitative bounds for Szemeredi's theorem on arithmetic progressions. The behavior of the $U(2)$ norm is closely tied to Fourier analysis. In this talk we present a generalization of Fourier analysis (called k-th order Fourier analysis) that is related in a similar way to the $U(k+1)$ norm. Ordinary Fourier analysis deals with homomorphisms of abelian groups into the circle group. We view k-th order Fourier analysis as a theory which deals with morphisms of abelian groups into algebraic structures that we call "k-step nilspaces". These structeres are variants of structures introduced by Host and Kra (called parallelepiped structures) and they are close relatives of nil-manifolds. Our approach has two components. One is an uderlying algebraic theory of nilspaces and the other is a variant of ergodic theory on ultra product groups. Using this theory, we obtain inverse theorems for the $U(k)$ norms on arbitrary abelian groups that generalize results by Green, Tao and Ziegler. As a byproduct we also obtain an interesting limit theory for functions on abelian groups in the spirit of the recently developed graph limit theory.