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Preprint 565-1997

Combinatorial Optimization & Graph Algorithms group (COGA-Preprints)

Approximation Algorithms
Andreas S. Schulz, David B. Shmoys, and David P. Williamson
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Increasing global competition, rapidly changing markets, and greater consumer awareness have altered the way in which corporations do business. To become more efficient, many industries have sought to model some operational aspects by gigantic optimization problems. It is not atypical to encounter models which capture 106 separate "yes" or "no" decisions to be made. Although one could, in principle, try all 210^6 possible solutions to find the optimal one, such a method would be impractically slow. Unfortunately, for most of these models, no algorithms are known that find optimal solutions with reasonable computation times. Typically, industry must rely on solutions of unguaranteed quality that are constructed in an ad hoc manner. Fortunately, for some of these models there are good approximation algorithms: algorithms that produce solutions quickly that are provably close to optimal. Over the past six years, there have been a sequence of major breakthroughs in our understanding of the design of approximation algorithms and of limits to obtaining such performance guarantees: this area has been one of the most flourishing areas of discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science.
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