Asymptotic Expressions: Motivation
So, as Google Summer of Code started on Monday, May 25th it is time to give a proper motivation for the project I have proposed. The working title of my project is (Multivariate) Asymptotic Expressions, and its overall goal is to bring asymptotic expressions to SageMath.
What are Asymptotic Expressions?
A motivating answer for this question comes from the theory of Taylor series. Assume that we have a sufficiently nice (in this case meaning smooth) function $\def\R{\mathbb{R}} f : \R \to \R$ that we want to approximate in a neighborhood of some point $x_0 \in \R$. Taylor’s theorem allows us to write $f(x) = T_n(x) + R_n(x)$ where
and $R_n(x) = \frac{f^{(n+1)}(\xi)}{(n+1)!} \cdot (xx_0)^{n+1}$, where $\xi$ lies in a neighborhood of $x_0$. Note that for $x\to x_0$, $R_n(x)$ “behaves like” $(xx_0)^{n+1}$. In particular, we can certainly find a constant $C > 0$ such that $\vert R_n(x)\vert \leq C\cdot \vert xx_0\vert^{n+1}$, or, in other words: for $x\to x_0$ the growth of the function $R_n(x)$ is bounded from above by the growth of $(xx_0)^{n+1}$.
The idea of bounding the growth of a function by the growth of another function when the argument approaches some number (or $\infty$) is the central idea behind the big O notation. For function $f, g : \R \to \R$ we write $f(x) = O(g(x))$ for $x\to x_0$ if there is a constant $C > 0$ such that $\vert f(x)\vert \leq C\cdot \vert g(x)\vert$ for all $x$ in some neighborhood of $x_0$.
A case that is particularly important is the case of $x_0 = \infty$, that is if we want to compare and/or characterize the behavior of some function for $x\to\infty$, which is also called the functions asymptotic behavior. For example, consider the functions $\log x$, $x^3$ and $e^x$. All of them are growing unbounded for $x\to\infty$ – however, their asymptotic behavior differs. This can be seen by considering pairwise quotients of these functions: $\frac{x^3}{e^x} \to 0$ for $x\to\infty$, and therefore the asymptotic growth of $x^3$ can be bounded above by the growth of $e^x$, meaning $x^3 = O(e^x)$ for $x\to\infty$.
The analysis of a functions asymptotic behavior is important for many applications, for example when determining time and space complexity of algorithms in computer science, or for describing the growth of classes of combinatorial objects: take, for example, binary strings of length $2n$ that contain equally many zeros and ones. If $s_n$ denotes the number of such strings, then we have
Expressions like these are asymptotic expressions. When we consider asymptotic expressions in only one variable, everything works out nicely as a total order is induced. But as soon as multiple variables are involved, we don’t have a total order any more. Consider, for example, $x^2 y$ and $xy^2$ when $x$ and $y$ approach $\infty$. These two elements cannot be compared to each other, which complicates computing with these expressions as they may contain multiple “irreducible” Oterms.
Our plan is to provide an implementation based on which computations with these and more complicated expressions are possible.
Planned Structure
There are four core concepts of our implementation.

Asymptotic Growth Groups: These are multiplicative groups that contain growth elements like $x^2$, $\log x$, $2^x \cdot x \cdot \log x$. For starters, only univariate power growth groups will be implemented.

Asymptotic Term Monoids: These monoids contain asymptotic terms – in essence, these are summands of asymptotic terms. Apart from exact term monoids (growth elements with a coefficient), we will also implement Oterm monoids as well as a term monoid for a deviation of Oterms. Asymptotic terms have (in addition to their group operation, multiplication) absorption as an additional operation: for example, Oterms are able to absorb all asymptotically “smaller” elements.

Mutable Poset: As mentioned above, due to the fact that multivariate asymptotic expressions do not have a total order with respect to their growth, we need a partially ordered set (“Poset”) that deals with this structure such that operations like absorbing terms can be performed efficiently. The mutable poset is the central data structure that asymptotic expressions are built upon.

Asymptotic Ring: This is our toplevel structure which is also supposed to be the main interaction object for users. The asymptotic ring contains the asymptotic expressions, i.e. intelligently managed sums of asymptotic terms. All common operations shall be possible here. Furthermore, the interface should be intelligent enough such that admissible expressions from the symbolic ring can be directly converted into elements of the asymptotic ring.
Obviously, this “planned structure” is rather superficial. However, this is only to supplement the motivation for my project with some ideas on the implementation. I’ll go a lot more into the details of what I am currently implementing in the next blog posts!