*“Simplex* is not a polynomial time algorithm. Certain rare kinds of linear programs cause it to go from one corner of the feasible region to a better corner and then to a still better one, and so on for an exponential number of steps. For a long time, linear programming was considered a paradox, a problem that can be solved in practice, but not in theory!

Then, in 1979, a young Soviet mathematician called Leonid Khachiyan came up with the *ellipsoid algorithm*, one that is very different from simplex, extremely simple in its conception (but sophisticated in its proof) and yet one that solves any linear program in polynomial time. Instead of chasing the solution from one corner of the polyhedron to the next, Khachiyan’s algorithm confines it to smaller and smaller ellipsoids (skewed highdimensional balls). When this algorithm was announced, it became a kind of Â“"mathematical Sputnik", a splashy achievement that had the U.S. establishment worried, in the height of the Cold War, about the possible scientific superiority of the Soviet Union. The ellipsoid algorithm turned out to be an important theoretical advance, but did not compete well with simplex in practice. The paradox of linear programming deepened: A problem with two algorithms, one that is efficient in theory, and one that is efficient in practice!

A few years later Narendra Karmarkar, a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, came up with a completely different idea, which led to another provably polynomial algorithm for linear programming. Karmarkar’s algorithm is known as *the interior point method*, because it does just that: it dashes to the optimum corner not by hopping from corner to corner on the surface of the polyhedron like simplex does, but by cutting a clever path in the interior of the polyhedron. And it does perform well in practice.

But perhaps the greatest advance in linear programming algorithms was not Khachiyan’s theoretical break through or Karmarkar’s novel approach, but an unexpected consequence of the latter: the fierce competition between the two approaches, simplex and interior point, resulted in the development of very fast code for linear programming.”

(**Credit:** S. Dasgupta, C. H. Papadimitriou, and U. V. Vazirani, *Algorithms*, McGraw-Hill, 2008.)

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