Friday, July 03, 2009

FOCS 2009 results.

The FOCS list is out, (with abstracts). 73 papers accepted. Some papers that popped up on my radar screen (post more in the comments since I'll probably miss many good ones):
• Matt Gibson and Kasturi Varadarajan. Decomposing Coverings and the Planar Sensor Cover Problem.

This paper continues a line of work that I like to think we started in a SODA paper a few years ago. The problem is this: you're given a collection of sensors that monitor a region. But they have limited battery life, and they're also redundant (many different subsets of sensors have the range to cover the region). Can you schedule the sensors to go on and off so that at all times, the entire region is covered, and the region is covered for as long as possible ?

Early work on this problem formulated it in a combinatorial setting, which immediately led to things like log n-approximability lower bounds via set cover variants. Our belief was that the geometry of the regions would make things a bit easier. We made some small progress, getting a sublogarithmic approximation ratio for intervals on the line, and a constant factor for ranges with special structure. Subsequent work made steady improvements, and this work has brought things down to a constant for general classes of regions in the plane
• Saugata Basu and Thierry Zell. Polynomial hierarchy, Betti numbers and a real analogue of Toda's Theorem

Betti number computation has been a hot topic in computational geometry of late, but the idea of using Betti numbers to bound the (algebraic complexity) of basic geometric operations dates back to work by Dobkin and Lipton that relates the complexity of certain computations to the number of connected components of "invariant paths" in a computation. Ben-Or generalized these results to more complicated algebraic computation trees, and noting that "number of connected components" is the zero-th Betti number of the set of computations, asked whether higher-order Betti numbers might be useful for proving lower bounds. A series of results by Bjorner, Lovasz and Yao, Bjorner and Lovasz, and finally Yao showed that indeed the higher-order Betti numbers can be used to lower bound the complexity of algebraic computations.

So Betti numbers are important as a measure of "counting" in algebraic complexity. This paper reinforces this intuition, by relating #P over the reals to the complexity of computing Betti numbers over semi-algebraic sets. Interestingly, this paper mentions the difficult nature of Toda's original proof, and Lance just recently tweeted a new very simple proof of Toda's theorem that he just published in ToC.

• David Arthur, Bodo Manthey and Heiko Roeglin. k-Means has Polynomial Smoothed Complexity

Read my post on k-means for more on the significance of such results. This paper finally resolves the smoothed complexity issue, giving a polynomial bound (expected).

• Peyman Afshani, Jeremy Barbay and Timothy M. Chan. Instance-Optimal Geometric Algorithms

An interesting result that seems to be able to take away order-dependence from some geometric problems.

• T.S. Jayram and David Woodruff. The Data Stream Space Complexity of Cascaded Norms

Cascaded norms (where you compute one aggregate on each of a collection of streams, and compute another aggregate on these aggregates) are tricky for streaming algorithms, and this paper provides some interesting results. Again, I'm waiting for the document to show up, and I'd be interesting in seeing the kinds of techniques they use.