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The play of algorithms

Why do writers write? One of the reasons is that they can create their own characters. According to Saket Saurabh, informatics researchers have the same relation to algorithms.

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Saurabh, Saket
ALGORITHMS WORK FOR YOU: Algorithms are electronic recipies that can make it easier for you to make more efficient choices.
Photo:
Kim E. Andreassen

“That is why it so fun and motivating to do research on algorithms day in and day out,” says Professor Saket Saurabh at the Department of Informatics, University of Bergen (UiB).

Saurabh’s “play” is framed by his ERC Starting Grant project, where he is trying to combine the “characters” of time and cost.

“My team and I are the first to combine two kinds of algorithms. One is about the amount of time the computer uses to solve a complex problem. The other one is the kind of algorithms that try to optimize costs. We have so far achieved between 60 and 70 per cent of the goals we have set for our project,” says Saurabh.

Algorithms to improve travel

Saurabh uses the model of a city link problem to describe the problems they try to solve. When you for example buy an airline ticket online, some travel agencies have two parameters to choose from, time and cost.

“This is easy to do, when it comes to a travel between two cities. We are, however, working on a time and cost-model of city links, which involves travels between ten different cities. There is no computer today that can give you the best answer, but we are close to finding a solution,” says Saurabh.

Strong informatics environment at UiB

Saurabh was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2012 from the European Research Council (ERC). As an Indian citizen, he had to pick a European research institution to get the grant and he chose the strong and internationally orientated informatics environment at UiB.

“I held a postdoctoral fellowship in Bergen. When you are coming from the outside, it is always nicer to be in an environment where you know how things happen. I sit next door to people I made friends with when I was a postdoctoral fellow, such as Daniel Lokshtanov, Fedor Fomin and Pinar Heggernes. These are the main reasons for why I chose to take my ERC grant to UiB,” Saurabh admits.

”Besides from that, there is no doubt that the research environment on algorithms at the Department of Informatics at the UiB, is the strongest in Europe,” says Saurabh, who has studied at one of the top universities in India, at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), which is a national institute for research in the mathematical and physical sciences.

Achieving international success

According to Saurabh, the culture of involvement at UiB’s Department of Informatics is one of the reasons for the department’s success.

“I discovered that there is no hierarchy at the Department of Informatics, which is unique in the academic world. Everybody can voice his or her opinion equally even if it is correct or wrong. This allows you to grow, because you can question anybody about anything,” Saurabh points out.

The department is highly international, with researchers from India, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and Russia.

“Different people bring different academic cultures and experiences into the group. This mixed environment pushes everybody forward, and I find it amazing. One important fact is that we all have lunch together, which means we talk to each other every day, and share experiences,”

“People around the world are starting to notice our algorithm group. Why? Because of the special culture we have in the group.” says Saket Saurabh.