Sign In

Communications of the ACM

Letters to the editor

Beyond Brute Force

Letters to the Editor, illustration


In their article "The Science of Brute Force" (Aug. 2017), Marjin J.H. Heule and Oliver Kallmann humorously asked whether a mathematician using brute force is really "a kind of barbaric monster." While applying simplistic approaches to complex domains (such as image and speech processing) is inefficient, certain specific computational problems do indeed benefit from brute force. In this regard, the mathematician who uses brute force is simply functioning as a good engineer intent on solving problems efficiently.

My primary focus during my Massachusetts General Hospital fellowship (2013–2016) was analyzing the electronic health records for 314,292 patients.2 To identify biomarkers associated with outcomes, my colleagues and I were initially interested in knowing the smoking status of all of them—current, past, or never—for our prediction models. Smoking status is typically documented in clinical narrative notes as free text, and, as reported throughout the literature, classification accuracy of current methods is poor.


No entries found

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.
Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account