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brute force

brute force in Technology

A primitive programming style in which the programmer relies on the computer's processing power instead of using his own intelligence to simplify the problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying naive methods suited to small problems directly to large ones. The term can also be used in reference to programming style: brute-force programs are written in a heavy-handed, tedious way, full of repetition and devoid of any elegance or useful abstraction (see also brute force and ignorance).
The canonical example of a brute-force algorithm is associated with the "travelling salesman problem" (TSP), a classical NP-hard problem:
Suppose a person is in, say, Boston, and wishes to drive to N other cities. In what order should the cities be visited in order to minimise the distance travelled?
The brute-force method is to simply generate all possible routes and compare the distances; while guaranteed to work and simple to implement, this algorithm is clearly very stupid in that it considers even obviously absurd routes (like going from Boston to Houston via San Francisco and New York, in that order). For very small N it works well, but it rapidly becomes absurdly inefficient when N increases (for N = 15, there are already 1,307,674,368,000 possible routes to consider, and for N = 1000 - well, see bignum). Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no better general solution than brute force. See also NP-complete.
A more simple-minded example of brute-force programming is finding the smallest number in a large list by first using an existing program to sort the list in ascending order, and then picking the first number off the front.
Whether brute-force programming should actually be considered stupid or not depends on the context; if the problem is not terribly big, the extra CPU time spent on a brute-force solution may cost less than the programmer time it would take to develop a more "intelligent" algorithm. Additionally, a more intelligent algorithm may imply more long-term complexity cost and bug-chasing than are justified by the speed improvement.
When applied to cryptography, it is usually known as brute force attack.
Ken Thompson, co-inventor of Unix, is reported to have uttered the epigram "When in doubt, use brute force". He probably intended this as a ha ha only serious, but the original Unix kernel's preference for simple, robust and portable algorithms over brittle "smart" ones does seem to have been a significant factor in the success of that operating system. Like so many other tradeoffs in software design, the choice between brute force and complex, finely-tuned cleverness is often a difficult one that requires both engineering savvy and delicate aesthetic judgment.
[Jargon File]

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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Examples from the Web for brute force
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Whoever was able to know Rolland's inmost essence, acquired, as in the ancient saga, new energy for the wrestle with brute force.

    Romain Rolland Stefan Zweig
  • I became as the caveman, who by brute force would win his mate.

    Fibble, D. D. Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb
  • And Chortles is brute force, and he's going to send me down—what am I to do?

    A Widow's Tale and Other Stories Mrs. (Margaret) Oliphant
  • If brute force is your only logic, know now that I can, and will, use brute force.

    Skylark Three Edward Elmer Smith
  • The impression of brute force which it conveyed was terrific.

    Meccania Owen Gregory
Idioms and Phrases with brute force

brute force

Also,brute strength. Savage violence, unreasoning strength, as in We hope that reason will triumph over brute force. Although this expression is also used literally to mean exceptional physical power, the figurative sense reflects the origin for brute, which comes from Latin brutus, for “heavy, stupid, unreasoning.” [ First half of 1700s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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