52.233 Complexity

Complexity of an algorithm is a measure of the amount of time and/or space required by an algorithm for an input of a given size (n).

What effects run time of an algorithm?

 (a) computer used, the harware platform
 (b) representation of abstract data types (ADT's)
 (c) efficiency of compiler
 (d) competence of implementer (programming skills)
 (e) complexity of underlying algorithm
 (f) size of the input
We will show that of those above (e) and (f) are generally the most significant

Time for an algorithm to run t(n)

A function of input. However, we will attempt to characterise this by the size of the input. We will try and estimate the WORST CASE, and sometimes the BEST CASE, and very rarely the AVERAGE CASE.

What do we measure?

In analysing an algorithm, rather than a piece of code, we will try and predict the number of times "the principle activity" of that algorithm is performed. For example, if we are analysing a sorting algorithm we might count the number of comparisons performed, and if it is an algorithm to find some optimal solution, the number of times it evaluates a solution. If it is a graph colouring algorithm we might count the number of times we check that a coloured node is compatible with its neighbours.

Worst Case

... is the maximum run time, over all inputs of size n, ignoring effects (a) through (d) above. That is, we only consider the "number of times the principle activity of that algorithm is performed".

Best Case

In this case we look at specific instances of input of size n. For example, we might get best behaviour from a sorting algorithm if the input to it is already sorted.

Average Case

Arguably, average case is the most useful measure. It might be the case that worst case behaviour is pathological and extremely rare, and that we are more concerned about how the algorithm runs in the general case. Unfortunately this is typically a very difficult thing to measure. Firstly, we must in some way be able to define by what we mean as the "average input of size n". We would need to know a great deal about the distribution of cases throughout all data sets of size n. Alternatively we might make a possibly dangerous assumption that all data sets of size n are equally likely. Generally, in order to get a feel for the average case we must resort to an empirical study of the algorithm, and in some way classify the input (and it is only recently with the advent of high performance, low cost computation, that we can seriously consider this option).

The Growth rate of t(n)

Suppose the worst case time for algorithm A is
            t(n) = 60*n*n + 5*n + 1
for input of size n.

Assume we have differing machine and compiler combinations, then it is safe to say that

            t(n) = n*n + 5*n/60 + 1/60
That is, we ignore the coefficient that is applied to the most significant (dominating) term in t(n). Consequently this only affects the "units" in which we measure. It does not affect how the worst case time grows with n (input size) but only the units in which we measure worst case time Under these assumptions we can say ...
             "t(n) grows like n*n as n increases"


                        t(n) = O(n*n)
which reads "t(n) is of the order n squared" or as "t(n) is big-oh n squared"

In summary, we are interested only in the dominant term, and we ignore coefficients.

An Example (the tyranny of growth)

Tabulated below, are a number of functions against n (from 1 to 10)
        A = (log2 n) {log to base 2 of n}
        B = n {linear in n}
        C = (* n (log2 n)) {n log n}
        D = (* n n) {quadratic in n}
        E = (* n n n) {cubic in n}
        F = (expt 2 n) {exponential in n}
        G = (expt 3 n) {exponential in n}
        H = (fact n) {factorial in n}

     n   A   B    C      D     E     F      G         H
     1  0.0  1   0.0     1     1     2      3         1
     2  1.0  2   2.0     4     8     4      9         2
     3  1.0  3   4.0     9    27     8     27         6
     4  2.0  4   8.0    16    64    16     81        24
     5  2.0  5   11.0   25   125    32    243       120
     6  2.0  6   15.0   36   216    64    729       720
     7  2.0  7   19.0   49   343   128   2187      5040
     8  3.0  8   24.0   64   512   256   6561     40320
     9  3.0  9   28.0   81   729   512  19683    362880
    10  3.0 10   33.0  100  1000  1024  59049   3628800
Think of this as algorithms A through H with complexities as defined above, showing growth rate versus input size n. Tabulated below are functions F, G and H from above (ie 2 to power n, 3 to power n, and n factorial). Problem size n varies from 10 to 100 in steps of 10. I have assumed that we have a machine that can perform "the principle activity of the algorithm" in a micro second (ie. if we are considering a graph colouring algorithm, it can compare the colour of two nodes in a millionth of a second). The columns give the number of years this machine would take to execute those algorithms on problems of size n (note: YEARS). This is expressed as 10^x, "10 raised to the power x".
            n       F         G         H
           10     10^-10    10^-8     10^-6
           20     10^-7     10^-3     10^4
           30     10^-4     10^0      10^18
           40     10^-1     10^5      10^34
           50     10^1      10^10     10^50
           60     10^4      10^15     10^68
           70     10^7      10^19     10^86
           80     10^10     10^24     10^105
           90     10^13     10^29     10^124
          100     10^16     10^34     10^144
Therefore, if we have a problem of size (lets say 40) and the machine specified above, if the best algorithm is O(2**n) it will take 1 year, if the best algorithm is O(3**n) it will take 100,000 years, and if the best algorithm is O(n!) it will take
      10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years
approximately. Out of interest, the age of the universe is estimated to be between 15 and 20 billion years old, ie 20,000,000,000 years. That is, even at modest values of n we are presented with problems that will never be solved. It is almost tempting to say, that from a computational perspective, the universe is a small thing.

Problem Complexity

Assume we have a problem where we must consider all possible combinations. That is element e can be in or out of the set, and and we have n elements in the set. If we had to find the "best" combination we might have to explore all alternatives in the worst case. There are 2**n such alternatives. Such a problem is likely to have an algorithm that is no better than O(2**n) Assume we have a problem where we must find the best permutation of n objects, ie given n objects sequence them in such a way that the sequence is "optimal" in some respect. There are n! possible different orderings, and if we had to examine all of these to find the best (in the worst case) the algorithm would be O(n!). Problems of those kind are said to be INTRACTABLE. Generally a problem is intractable if the best worst case algorithm is NOT polynomial (ie not quadratic, not cubic, not n raised to k). If an algorithm is polynomial it is said to be good, otherwise it is not good. There are a large (and growing) number of problems where there are no good algorithms, and we do not expect ever to find good algorithms for those problems ... but this has not yet been proven.


Assume we have two algorithms A and B such that
        A.t(n) = 100*n*n milliseconds
        B.t(n) = 5*n*n*n milliseconds

Should we always choose A, because A is O(n*n) and B is O(n*n*n)
                 n       A       B
                 1      0.1     0.005
                 2      0.4     0.04
                 3      0.9     0.135
                 4      1.6     0.32
                 5      2.5     0.625
                 6      3.6     1.08
                 7      4.9     1.715
                 8      6.4     2.56
                 9      8.1     3.645
                10     10       5
                11     12.1     6.655
                12     14.4     8.64
                13     16.9    10.985
                14     19.6    13.72
                15     22.5    16.875
                16     25.6    20.48
                17     28.9    24.565
                18     32.4    29.16
                19     36.1    34.295
The table above gives the run times for A and B with varying size of input. As can be seen, although B is cubic (ie O(n*n*n)) it is a better algorithm to use so long as n<20. Consequently, things aren't as clear cut as we might think. When choosing an algorithm it helps to know something about the environment in which it will be run.

Other considerations when coosing an algorithm:

  1. How often will the program be used? If only once, or a few times
     do we care about run time? Will it take longer to code than to run
     for the few times it is used? 
  2. Will it only be used on small inputs, or large inputs.
  3. An efficient algorithm might require carefull coding, be difficult
     to implement, difficult to understand, and difficult to maintain.
     Can we afford those expenses?

Consequences of more cpu

We have seen a steady growth in the performance of computers. Computers are getting cheaper, faster, with more ram. Consequently there is increase in demand to solve ever bigger and more complex problems. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly important that we invent and implement more efficient algorithms. Thus the discovery/invention and use of efficient algorithms becomes more rather than less important.