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Collège de France

M.-L. Gambié - 13/11/2017

Claire Mathieu : Algorithmics, solving algorithms in order to better master them

The Chair of Informatics and Computational Sciences at the Collège de France for the year 2017-2018 is awarded to Claire Mathieu, computer scientist and mathematician, and research director at the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research). The inaugural lecture will be given on Thursday 16 November 2017 at 6.00pm.

Born in 1965, Claire Mathieu holds a PhD in computer science from Paris-Sud University. A CNRS researcher at thegrande écoleENS from 1990 to 1997, professor at Paris-Sud University from 1997 until 2004 then at the École polytechnique from 2002 to 2004, she was also associate professor within the ENS computer science department from 2014 until 2016. She has been a research director at the CNRS since 2012.

Her work particularly focuses on approximation algorithms, enabling the calculation of near-optimal solutions to problems that are too difficult to solve exactly within a reasonable length of time. 

Algorithmics: solving algorithms in order to better master them

Understanding, describing, modelling or designing and developing new techniques: the fields of research in algorithmics are vast. The work of Claire Mathieu puts her among the leading world scientists in this field. She has particularly worked on approximation algorithms and online algorithms. 

One of her most widely known results involves the demonstration of the existence of a ‘glass ceiling’ in social networks, “preventing women or a minority from reaching the higher echelons of the hierarchy” ; a sociological postulate, the existence of this glass ceiling has - thanks to the modelling developed by Claire Mathieu and her teams - found a valuable mathematical foothold. 

Mathematical rigour is always central to her research. “The non-negotiable element is searching for the theorem. The problems are varied, as are the solving methods but, ultimately, what is important - what appears in the paragraph entitled "our results" and in our introductions - is always a theorem.”

Contributing to societal and ethical reflection 

Claire Mathieu will share her expertise in algorithmics at the Collège de France: leading problems, challenges, fundamental questions, diversity of techniques, new problems and new computing methods.

However she will also highlight, with the same high standards she sets for her research and level of rigour in her reasoning, the absolute necessity of pursuing a major reflection on the emergence of algorithms solving - and this is an innovation - imprecise problems. As a result she will set out the ethical questions posed by the rapid rise in importance of so-called ‘deep learning algorithms, which "are now applied pretty much everywhere without our having really understood their fundamental aspects" .

“The problem is that, as far as algorithms are concerned, practice has had a major head start over theory and the in-depth understanding of the mathematical mechanisms that govern them. This lag effectively results in risks of uncontrolled manipulation. (...) These questions are at the boundary of classical algorithmics and, at the same time, central to the evolution of the field over the coming decade.”

Keywords: Collège de France Algorithm Chair of Informatics and Computational Sciences