Perhaps right after the addition at school we’ve learned how to multiply two numbers. This algorithm isn’t as easy as addition, but besides that we’re so familiar with it and that we even don’t recognize it as an “algorithm”. We just know it by heart.
However, as I already said, multiplication is a bit more difficult than addition. This algorithm is interesting because for several reasons. First of all, let’s compare multiplication in binary and decimal.
So, let’s see how to multiply two numbers.
Multiplying and adding is practically the same thing, so where’s the difference?
It’s clear that a product of two numbers (each with N digits) can be represented as N sums, as we can see on the next picture.
Now, for larger integers each time we shift left the next intermediate sum.
The Strassen’s method of matrix multiplication is a typical divide and conquer algorithm. We’ve seen so far some divide and conquer algorithms like merge sort and the Karatsuba’s fast multiplication of large numbers. However let’s get again on what’s behind the divide and conquer approach.
Unlike the dynamic programming where we “expand” the solutions of sub-problems in order to get the final solution, here we are talking more on joining sub-solutions together. These solutions of some sub-problems of the general problem are equal and their merge is somehow well defined.
A typical example is the merge sort algorithm. In merge sort we have two sorted arrays and all we want is to get the array representing their union again sorted. Of course, the tricky part in merge sort is the merging itself. That’s because we’ve to pass through the two arrays, A and B, and we’ve to compare each “pair” of items representing an item from A and from B. A bit off topic, but this is the weak point of merge sort and although its worst-case time complexity is O(n.log(n)), quicksort is often preferred in practice because there’s no “merge”. Quicksort just concatenates the two sub-arrays. Note that in quicksort the sub-arrays aren’t with an equal length in general and although its worst-case time complexity is O(n^2) it often outperforms merge sort.
This simple example from the paragraph above shows us how sometimes merging the solutions of two sub-problems actually isn’t a trivial task to do. Thus we must be careful when applying any divide and conquer approach.
Volker Strassen is a German mathematician born in 1936. He is well known for his works on probability, but in the computer science and algorithms he’s mostly recognized because of his algorithm for matrix multiplication that’s still one of the main methods that outperforms the general matrix multiplication algorithm.
Typically multiplying two n-digit numbers require n2 multiplications. That is actually how we, humans, multiply numbers. Let’s take a look of an example in case we’ve to multiply two 2-digit numbers.
12 x 15= ?
OK, we know that the answer is 180 and there are lots of intuitive methods that help us get the right answer. Indeed 12 x 15 it’s just a bit more difficult to calculate than 10 x 15, because multiplying by 10 it really easy – we just add one 0 at the end of the number. Thus 15 x 10 equals 150. But now again on 12 x 15 – we know that this equals 10 x 15 (which is 150) and 2 x 15, which is also very easy to calculate and it is 30. The result of 12×15 will be 150 + 30, which fortunately isn’t difficult to get and equals to 180.
That was easy but in some cases the calculations are a bit more difficult and we need a structured algorithm to get the right answer. What about 65 x 97? That is not so easy as 12 x 15, right?
The algorithm we know from the primary school, described on the diagram below, is well structured and help us multiply two numbers.