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Poems That Solve PuzzlesThe History and Science of Algorithms$
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Chris Bleakley

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198853732

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198853732.001.0001

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Needles in Haystacks

Needles in Haystacks

(p.93) 6 Needles in Haystacks
Poems That Solve Puzzles

Chris Bleakley

Oxford University Press

Chapter 6 examines one of the greatest unsolved challenges in mathematics - the problem of finding the best solution from a large number of possibilities. The Traveling Salesman Problem requires that the shortest tour of a group of cities is determined. Surprisingly, the only way to guarantee finding the shortest tour is to measure the length of all possible tours. Exhaustive search such as this is very slow. For centuries, mathematicians have sought to find fast algorithms for solving combinatorial search problems. The most famous was invented by Edsger Dijkstra in 1956. Dijkstra’s algorithm finds the shortest route between cities on a roadmap and is now used in all satellite navigation apps. The Gale-Shapley algorithm solves the problem of matching pairs of items according to user preferences. John Holland took the radical step of accelerating combinatorial search by mimicking natural evolution in a computer.

Keywords:   algorithm, combinatorial optimisation, complexity theory, NP-complete, Travlling Salesman Problem, Dijkstra’s algorithm, Gale-Shapely, John Holland, genetic algorithms

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