Jakob Nordström

Associate Professor in Computer Science at KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Membership period 2018–2023

Computers are everywhere today—at work, in our cars, in our living rooms, and in our pockets—and have changed the world beyond our wildest imagination. Yet these marvelous devices are, at the core, amazingly simple and stupid: all they can do is to mechanically shuffle zeros and ones around. What is the true potential of such automated computational devices? And what are the limits of what can be done by mechanical calculations? Understanding this kind of questions is ultimately what my research is about.

My research area, computational complexity theory, gives these deep and fascinating philosophical questions a crisp mathematical meaning. A computational problem is any task that is in principle amenable to being solved by a computer—i.e., it can be solved by mechanical application of mathematical steps. By constructing general, abstract models of computers we can study how to design efficient methods, or algorithms, for solving different tasks, but also prove mathematical theorems showing that some computational problems just cannot be solved efficiently for inherent reasons.

I am particularly interested in understanding different combinatorial optimization problems, which are of fundamental mathematical importance but also have wide-ranging applications in industry. My goal is, one the one hand, to prove formally that many such problems are beyond the reach of current algorithmic techniques, but also, on the other hand, to develop new algorithms that have the potential to go beyond the current state of the art.

Jakob Nordström Foto: Jason Dorfman

(Click for high resolution press portrait) Photo: Jason Dorfman


Born: 1972
Family: Wife and three children (sons born 2005 and 2008 and a daughter born 2011).
Interests: I am curious about how the world works and am a bit of a newsjunkie. I
love music, especially choir and ensemble singing, although these days it
is difficult to find the time on top of work and family. I enjoy all kinds
of ball games, maybe sometimes with greater enthusiasm than skill...
Other: I have previously work as interpreter and translator between Russian and
Swedish/English, engaged among others for H.M. the King of Sweden and the
Prime Minister. I also have a diploma in choir conducting the Tallinn
Music Upper Secondary School, Estonia, and during 1994-1999 I directed the
vocal ensemble Collegium Vocale Stockholm, which performed mainly
Renaissance and Baroque music.

“I slipped into a research career because research was so fun, but I also
think that it is an immensely important endeavour and therefore crucially
needs good conditions. If we wish to have world-leading research in
Sweden, we must make high demands on our researchers, but they also need
to get the means to be able to meet these demands. University professors
should have time for research included in the position as a matter of
course. Researchers and teachers need to be able to focus on what they do
best instead of being overwhelmed with an ever increasing administrative
workload. Swedish universities need to become more autonomous to be able
to set their own research agenda independent of short-term trends.

For researchers, with the most enjoyable job in the world comes the
responsibilty to explain why we are conducting our (sometimes seemingly
strange) research, so that decision makers and taxpayers can understand
why they should support us. Here I think there is ample room for
improvement in the research community.

All of these are issues that I want to try to influence as a member of the
Young Academy of Sweden.

Sveriges unga akademi
c/o Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien
Box 50005
SE 104 05 Stockholm

+ 46 (0)8 673 95 00

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