Saturday, August 14, 2010

On P not equal NP

Last week a researcher from HP Research Lab, by the name of Vinay Deolalikar, notified the universe that he succeeded to prove that P is not equal NP, which has been an open problem for many years, many people has set to work on his more than 100 pages proof, and some claimed on finding fundamental flows, as a result Deolalikar notified that he is fixing some parts and will re-post an updated version soon. Many people are skeptic, but we'll have to wait and see.

Some observations about it:

  1. The current Web 2.0 media -- Blogs, forums, social networks, is the frontier in which this entire discussion is being made, in a way there is a public peer review that is typically in scientific publications is being handled behind the scenes and don't make public. This is an interesting phenomenon. We see public reviews of books on the Amazon site, but public peer review on unpublished scientific work is rare to go public; I guess that this is currently reserved to VIP papers.
  2. The scientific who did this work is from an industrial research lab and not from the academia, somewhat surprising since the image is that industrial research is interested in system oriented research and not in theory oriented research -- well, the world is not black and white. While research in industry is not in its glory period these days, it still attracts high quality scientists who prefer the frame of the private sector on the academic one.
  3. People generally assume that P is not equal NP, and thus for many of the NP problems which have a need to be resolved in reality, there are devised methods and heuristics to obtain good enough solutions for most realistic scenarios. A proof that this assumption is true will have a huge theoretical value, but not a huge practical value, since it will not provide any insight of how to improve the solutions. Of course, if somebody will prove that P = NP it will have a pragmatic value, if it will show how to solve all the NP problems in polynomial time.
  4. While the fate of this proof has not determined yet, I wish luck to Deolalikar, I like daring people.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On specialized graduate degree programs

Recently I came across several specialized programs, one of them is the master degree in De Paul university entitled "Master of Science in Predictive Analytics" that is sponsored by IBM; the other is a planned transatlantic master degree in collaboration between three European universities and three Canadians universities to pursue a collaborative program around BPM, in which event processing is one of the components. There are people who are strong supporters of specialized degrees, and there are also some opponents. Somewhere in the 1990-ies, I have been a member in a committee of the Israeli Higher Education Council, whose role has been to evaluate a new department (and degree programs) in one of the Israeli universities called "communication systems engineering", at that time this program has been controversial, the supporters claimed that it is the best education to a much needed profession, while the opponents claimed that it will create engineers with two narrow focus, and in general an engineer need to be more broad minded. At the end we recommended to approve this program, and it still exists, however, in some of the more conservative universities, it could not have happened.

Nowadays we have some tension between depth and breadth, and I guess that this is more of person own inclination where does the person classifies him/herself on the breadth vs. depth axis. The answer is not black and white, some roles are better occupied by people with depth and deep expertise, some roles are better occupied by people with very broad professional education. Of course, there are people who succeed to have both. Personally I prefer persons that are very good at something over persons that are mediocre in everything, moreover, one of the common mistakes of enterprises in employees development is to try and strengthen areas in which the employee is weak, in many cases, it is more effective to strengthen areas in which the employee is already strong, to challenge the employee to achieve excellence (unless the weakness is in a fundamental area that is critical for the employee's success).

Anyway, each of these programs will have to find its focus to create expertise in order to succeed.