We study how well functions over the boolean hypercube of the form $f_k(x)=(|x|-k)(|x|-k-1)$ can be approximated by sums of squares of low-degree polynomials, obtaining good bounds for the case of approximation in $\ell_{\infty}$-norm as well as in $\ell_1$-norm. We describe three complexity-theoretic applications: (1) a proof that the recent breakthrough lower bound of Lee, Raghavendra, and Steurer on the positive semidefinite extension complexity of the correlation and TSP polytopes cannot be improved further by showing better sum-of-squares degree lower bounds on $\ell_1$-approximation of $f_k$; (2) a proof that Grigoriev's lower bound on the degree of Positivstellensatz refutations for the knapsack problem is optimal, answering an open question from his work; (3) bounds on the query complexity of quantum algorithms whose expected output approximates such functions.

IEEE Conference on Computational Complexity
This work was funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme; grant id erc/615307 - Progress in quantum computing: Algorithms, communication, and applications (QPROGRESS)
Algorithms and Complexity

Lee, T. J, Prakash, A, de Wolf, R.M, & Yuen, H. (2016). On the sum-of-squares degree of symmetric quadratic functions.