I have some constant vector $\mathbf{s}$ on $n$ dimensions, where every element of $\mathbf{s}$ is a real number, and I would like to multiply it by every possible $n$-dimensional binary vector $\mathbf{v}_j\ (0\leq j < 2^n)$.

I only care about whether $\mathbf{s}\cdot \mathbf{v}_j > 0$. I would like to count all of the times this condition holds.

Question: As the naive algorithm has complexity $O(2^n)$, it blows up fast. What are my options for optimizing this for large $n$?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So, you basically want to know how many subsets of $\mathbf{s}$ sum to a positive value? $\endgroup$
    – ryan
    Apr 1, 2019 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ You want to determine the expected value of a linear threshold function (LTF). There is some literature on that. $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2019 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ You can use a meet-in-the-middle approach to get an $O(2^{n/2})$ algorithm: calculate all sums of each half of the vector, then run a two pointer algorithm. $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2019 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, if the real numbers can be expressed as rationals with some small common denominator, expressing it as a knapsack problem will help. If it is acceptable to round to such numbers (e.g., to three digits after the decimal point), the same applies. $\endgroup$
    – Gassa
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ryan Thanks for reformulating -- that is correct. $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2019 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


Suppose that you could solve this in $T(n)$. Given a list of positive integers $a_1,\ldots,a_n$ and a target $T$, consider the two instances $a_1,\ldots,a_n,-T$ and $a_1,\ldots,a_n,-T+1$. Denoting by $N(\cdots)$ the number of positive sums, we get:

  • $N(a_1,\ldots,a_n,-T)$ is the number of subsets of $\{a_1,\ldots,a_n\}$ whose sum is larger than $T$.
  • $N(a_1,\ldots,a_n,-T+1)$ is the number of subsets of $\{a_1,\ldots,a_n\}$ whose sum is at least $T$.

By comparing these two numbers, you can solve SUBSET-SUM in time $T(n+1)$.

(There are some potential differences in the computation models, that I leave you to ponder.)

There is a simple $O(2^{n/2})$ algorithm, which proceeds as follows. We break the array $s_1,\ldots,s_n$ into two equal halves. We compute an ordered list $A_1,\ldots,A_{2^{n/2}}$ of all sums of the first half, and an ordered list $B_1,\ldots,B_{2^{n/2}}$ of all sums of the second half. This takes time $O(2^{n/2})$ if done carefully (by iterative merging). We put a pointer $j$ at $B_{2^{n/2}}$, and decrease it until $A_1 + B_j \le 0$. The value of $j$ tells us the number of pairs $(1,j')$ satisfying $A_1 + B_j > 0$. Then we do the same for $A_2$ — note that we can start the scan at the current value of $j$; and so on. This phase also takes $O(2^{n/2})$.


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