Computer programmers ready for smash-mouth brain battle

The Battle of the Brains is the largest computing competition in the world

The brain
A smart people smack-down is set to start next week where thousands of university computer researchers will pit their brains and machines in a grueling battle of logic, strategy, and mental endurance

The 34th annual IBM-sponsored Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Contest (ICPC)  pits teams of three university students against eight or more complex, real-world problems, with a nerve-wracking five-hour deadline. 

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During the competition, ten to twelve problems are attempted in a five hour period. The problems are of varying difficulty and flavor. ACM says it wants two problems that could be solved in an hour by a first or second year student, two that could be solved in an hour by a third year student, and two that will likely determine the winners. The goal is that every team solve two problems, that every problem is solved, and that no team solve them all, according to ACM. 

Contests in the past have included problems that searched for a missing boat at sea, triangulated the location of a faulty transmitter, computed golf handicaps, stacked pipe of varying diameters in a fixed width bin, coded or decoded messages, printed braille, sought an exit to a maze, processed satellite images and solved a math problem.

 Problems are presented with no more than a page of text, a helpful illustration, a sample input set with and accepted output set, ACM states.  Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds, and build smart software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges. 

And judging is relentlessly strict, IBM says. The students are given a problem statement, not a requirements document. They are given an example of test data, but they do not have access to the judges' test data and acceptance criteria. Each incorrect solution submitted is assessed a time penalty. The team that solves the most problems in the fewest attempts in the least cumulative time is declared the winner. 

For a well-versed computer science student, some of the problems require precision only. Some problems require a knowledge and understanding of advanced algorithms. Still others are simply too hard to solve - except for the world's brightest problem-solvers, according to IBM. 

The Battle of the Brains is the largest and most prestigious computing competition in the world, with more than tens of thousands of students from universities in approximately 90 countries on six continents participating. Since IBM began sponsoring the contest in 1997, participation has grown from 1,100 to more than 7,100 teams. 

Previously, the 2009 ACM-ICPC World Finals took place in Stockholm, Sweden, where a team from St. Petersburg University of Information Technology, Mechanics and Optics in Russia emerged as the world champion for the second year in a row

Regional bouts will begin in the United States on October 18 and continue through December, sweeping from continent to continent. Only 100 three-person teams will advance to the World Finals on February 5, 2010 hosted by Harbin Engineering University in Harbin, China. 

"The ACM-ICPC affords students the opportunity to showcase their talents and gain exposure among top recruiters," said Dr. Bill Poucher, ICPC Executive Director and Baylor University Professor. "The contest is also a forum for advancing technology in an effort to better accommodate the growing needs of the future."

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