"Despite the dramatic increase in
the speed of hardware
and software, a super
computer might need centuries..." 
New
developments in the construction of algorithms are changing entire industries and solving
problems that were once thought impossible to solve. Algorithms are stepbystep equations
for getting something done. This form of an equation has been around since the Greeks, who
used algorithms to build the Parthenon.
However, today there is a new generation of algorithms. Mathematicians
who understand the power of today’s computers have constructed these algorithms. They
take advantage of mountains of digital information never before available but can now
gleaned from a multitude of databases. Algorithms have become a critical force in the
global marketplace because they can find ways to solve problems faster, cheaper and
better.
The equation, which can involve millions of calculations, is fed into a
computer in the form of a computer program. That way, you can plug in different variables,
run the calculations at high speed and get an optimal result. The problem is, as the
number of variables increases, the time it takes to calculate all the possibilities can go
up exponentially. Despite the dramatic increase in the speed of hardware and software, a
supercomputer might need centuries to do calculations. Especially those calculations
involving pattern recognition.
Modern mathematicians have gone to work on algorithms to make them
faster. Quentin Stout, a professor at the University of Michigan has stated, "By
rearranging the calculations, you can drastically reduce them. You find a more clever way
so you don't do so many. That can be a major win."
Sometimes, researchers make huge leaps. Until the 1980s, there was only
one known kind of algorithm. It was called the simplex algorithm, for doing complex
problems with a large number of variables. It essentially would move the calculations from
point to point along a Zigzagging imaginary line until it found the optimal point. This
process takes a long time when there are many variables. In 1985, Bell Labs researcher
Narendra Karmarkar found a way to mathematically leap across boundaries instead of
following that line. A simplex algorithm is like driving an interstate from one city to
another; a Karmarkar algorithm is like flying there.
Bill Pulleyblank, who develops algorithms at IBM's Watson Research
Centre has stated, "A lot of algorithm development is not breakthrough work, you do
better a little at a time." One painstaking method is to run an algorithm on a
computer, detail how long each calculation takes, then work on each one to make it faster.
The advances in Algorithms are having a major impact in what computers
can do. IBM proved that in its bid to build a computer system for the Department of Energy
that would do a once impossible task: make exact, realtime models of atomic blasts. IBM
put together a massive computer to do the job, but the DOE said it cost too much. IBM
researchers went to work on the algorithms and eventually cut the processing power needed
and the price by half. IBM won a $93 million contract.
Algorithms also are the key to a new area called pattern recognition.
Pattern recognition algorithms are used by Veritus for authentication of paintings. These
algorithms sort through massive amounts of data looking for repeated patterns. It will
help research the data in the Human Genome Project, looking for obscure patterns among the
billions of bits of DNA. IBM plans to supply Monsanto with pattern recognition algorithms,
which will be used to match genes to develop better seeds. That kind of research as well
as the research conducted by Veritus could have been done before, but it would have taken
so long it would not have been costeffective. Pattern discovery would have taken months,
where there are many variables. Now it can be done in hours.
