Adaptive Set Intersections, Unions and Differences

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Motivated by boolean queries in text database systems, we consider the problems of finding the intersection, union, or difference of a collection of sorted sets. While the worst-case complexity of these problems is straightforward, we consider a notion of complexity that depends on the particular instance. We develop the idea of a proof that a given set is indeed the correct answer. Proofs, and in particular shortest proofs, are characterized. We present adaptive algorithms that make no a priori assumptions about the problem instance, and show that their running times are within a constant factor of optimal with respect to a natural measure of the difficulty of an instance. In the process, we develop a framework for designing and evaluating adaptive algorithms in the comparison model.

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