Some of my work explained in the ten hundred most used words

After reading this, I decided to attempt explaining my work in the ten hundred most used words (check out the Up-Goer Five), here it goes:

My job is turning coffee into….. oh wait, that word is not allowed? I don’t understand… I thought it was the most used word…

Let’s try again:

A part of my work has lots of short and wide boxes of numbers. I am interested in building such boxes that are of a given type. It turns out that if one builds such boxes by flipping a small piece of money then one probably gets a box of the wanted type. It is a big surprise that, without the chance given by the small piece of money, it is very hard to build such boxes of numbers or even to recognize one when you see it!

Another part of my work, probably the largest, is about relaxing problems so that we can actually answer them with a computer. Many important problems are known to be hard, in the sense that even the fastest known way of finding a perfect answer for them takes way too much time – the age of the world kind of too much time.

For some problems, one of the questions I am interested in is: “Can we relax the problem a little bit and ask not for a perfect answer but for a good enough answer and maybe have the computer give it to us in time for dinner?”. For some problems we can! Not just in time for dinner, but often in a few seconds.

Say that you took many pictures, of that building you really liked in your last trip, from different places on the street. Back home, can you guess, from all the pictures alone, which direction each of the picture was taken? Given a pair of pictures it is not so hard to see whether they are taken from a near direction of not. One of the problems I am interested in is about how one can use this and other facts about pairs of pictures to be able to get the direction for every picture. This type of problems are known to be very hard (if one asks for a perfect answer to them) but we are able to a give good (not-perfect) answer quickly, using a computer.

In fact, several of the problems for which I want to be able to get a “good enough answer” have to do with pictures and how to use facts about pairs of them to answer questions about each of the pictures.

An interesting question is to ask how good of an answer can one give to hard problems quickly. It turns out that there are studies that understand very well how much we can ask for a “good enough” answer to some problems. They show that asking for a better answer is as hard as asking for the perfect one.

Explaining my work this way was much harder than I thought! You should give it a try, it’s fun! This can help you.
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