This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of James Hardy Wilkinson, FRS. Wilkinson developed the theory and practice of backward error analysis for floating-point computation, and developed, analyzed, and implemented in software many algorithms in numerical linear algebra. While much has changed since his untimely passing in 1986, we still rely on the analytic and algorithmic foundations laid by Wilkinson.
The condition number of a matrix is a well known measure of ill conditioning that has been in use for many years. For an matrix it is , where is any matrix norm. If is singular we usually regard the condition number as infinite.
The first occurrences of the term “condition number” and of the formula that I am aware of are in Turing’s 1948 paper Rounding-Off Errors in Matrix Processes. He defines the -condition number and the -condition number , where and , the latter N-norm being what we now call the Frobenius norm. He suggests using these condition numbers to measure the ill conditioning of a matrix with respect to linear systems, using a statistical argument to make the connection. He also notes that “the best conditioned matrices are the orthogonal ones”.
In his 1963 book Rounding Errors in Algebraic Processes, Wilkinson credits the first use of “condition number” to Turing and notes that “the term `ill-condition’ had been in common use among numerical analysts for some considerable time before this”. An early mention of linear equations being ill conditioned is in the 1933 paper An Electrical Calculating Machine by Mallock. According to Croarken, Mallock’s machine “could not adequately deal with ill conditioned equations, letting out a very sharp whistle when equilibrium could not be reached”.
Nowadays we know that can be thought of both as a measure of the sensitivity of the solution of a linear system to perturbations in the data and as a measure of the sensitivity of the matrix inverse to perturbations in the matrix (see, for example, Condition Numbers and Their Condition Numbers by D. J. Higham). How to formulate the definition of condition number for a wide class of problems was worked out by John Rice in his 1966 paper A Theory of Condition.
My two-year term as SIAM President ended on December 31, 2018. It’s been an exciting and enjoyable two years, not least because of the excellent SIAM staff, leadership and other volunteers I’ve worked with.
My blog post Taking Up the SIAM Presidency and my SIAM News article Evolving and Innovating set out some ideas that I wanted to pursue during my two years as president. I will not attempt to review these here, but just list five highlights from the last two years.
We held the SIAM ADVANCE in April 2018: a two-day strategic planning workshop attended by 25 officers, staff, and other members of the SIAM community. The many ideas that emerged from the event are summarized in an 80-page report provided to the SIAM Council and Board of Trustees. Many of these have already been acted upon, others are in progress, and yet more will be considered in the future. My SIAM News article Advancing SIAM gives more details of the workshop.