HP researcher claims to crack compsci complexity conundrum

A Hewlett-Packard researcher puts forth a possible solution to a tough computer science puzzler

While Hewlett-Packard reels from the fallout of its CEO Mark Hurd stepping down, the company can bask in the glory of at least one potentially positive accomplishment: An HP researcher has offered up what he says is a solution to one of the hardest problems in computer science.

HP Labs principal research scientist Vinay Deolalikar has posted what he claims is a solution to what is widely known as the P versus NP problem.

So intractable is this problem that the Clay Mathematics Institute has vowed to award the person who solves it US$1 million. It is one of only seven problems, collectively known as the Millennium Prize Problems, the institute has offered this bounty for. One of the seven, the Poincaré conjecture, was officially solved in 2006.

It is unclear yet if Deolalikar will get the cash, since Clay has not said that it considers the problem solved.

This problem, "one of the outstanding problems in computer science," involves "determining whether questions exist whose answer can be quickly checked, but which require an impossibly long time to solve by any direct procedure," an Institute page explains. In the problem, P stands for polynomial time and NP stands for nondeterministic polynomial time.

"I am pleased to announce a proof that P is not equal to NP," Deolalikar announced in an e-mail to a group of math professors, which was then posted on Sunday by Greg Baker, a senior lecturer at the British Columbia Simon Fraser University.

In a nutshell, this may mean that certain problems can only be solved by brute force searching, if solutions can be found at all.

"The proof required the piecing together of principles from multiple areas within mathematics. The major effort in constructing this proof was uncovering a chain of conceptual links between various fields and viewing them through a common lens," Deolalikar wrote.

Naturally, those knowledgeable with the problem hesitate to proclaim that Deolalikar has solved the problem, given the amount of checking that would need to be done. And while they praise Deolalikar for his thorough approach, one that differs from the more haphazard guesses that are usually presented, no one has definitively claimed he has cracked the problem.

"It seems to introduce some thought-provoking new ideas, particularly a connection between statistical physics and the first-order logic characterization of NP," wrote Scott Aaronson, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a noncommittal blog entry.

"I do not know what to think right now, but I am certainly hopeful," wrote Dick Lipton, a professor of computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags popular scienceHewlett-Packard

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?