Monday, 20 August 2007

Solving the Cube

I can't link to it since I'm writing from my phone, but an interesting story that I saw in the last few days (BBC News Online, technology section) related the news that some computer scientists have proved a new solution regarding Rubik's Cube. What amazed me (and I'm not sure why, as thinking about it it is a perfect source for potentially interesting and media-friendly research) was the idea that so much work has been done on solutions and results for the Rubik's Cube.

According to the article there are 43 billion billion different configurations of the cube - and the newly proven result shows that all of these can be restored to the starting configuration with at most 26 twists. This is now the new upper bound on the so-called "God's Number", i.e., the number of moves God would use to solve a given configuration of the Rubik's Cube. They also believe that this bound is not sharp, meaning that with future research they aim to show that any configuration can be solved with less than 26 moves.

I don't know... I guess I had God pegged as more of a Sudoku kind of guy... But seriously, I do wonder a little at this kind of research. It's not knowledge for the sake of it, and it's not knowledge without application, but it does make one think about the way that we rank the importance of various research projects. It's an incredible achievement when you consider the numbers involved, but in the grand scheme of things what does it really mean, what does it offer?

Or maybe I'm just jealous because I've not done any research yet which aims towards the "final word" on something.


mattiecore said...

I've always wondered about this kind of research like this, too. I lump this along with things, like, what are the possible to solutions to such and such a game? How many winning strategies exist? etc

zero_zero_one said...

Questions about strategy are interesting, and as we've discussed before you never know where some research will take you, or what the future applications might be - but on the face of it this just seems to be some kind of media-friendly newsbite that in the grand scheme of things doesn't mean all that much.

As ever though, I am willing to be proved wrong (or at least, I will accept being proved wrong...)!