- Date: 15th century
In linear algebra, the permanent of a square matrix is a function of the matrix similar to the determinant. The permanent, as well as the determinant, is a polynomial in the entries of the matrix. Both permanent and determinant are special cases of a more general function of a matrix called the immanant.
The permanent of an n-by-n matrix A = (ai,j) is defined as
The sum here extends over all elements σ of the symmetric group Sn, i.e. over all permutations of the numbers 1, 2, ..., n.
The definition of the permanent of A differs from that of the determinant of A in that the signatures of the permutations are not taken into account. If one views the permanent as a map that takes n vectors as arguments, then it is a multilinear map and it is symmetric (meaning that any order of the vectors results in the same permanent). A formula similar to Laplace's for the development of a determinant along a row or column is also valid for the permanent; all signs have to be ignored for the permanent.
The permanent is believed to be more difficult to compute than the determinant. While the determinant can be computed in polynomial time by Gaussian elimination, Gaussian elimination cannot be used to compute the permanent. Moreover, computing the permanent of a 0-1 matrix (matrix whose entries are 0 or 1) is #P-complete. Thus, if the permanent can be computed in polynomial time by any method, then FP = #P which is an even stronger statement than P = NP. When the entries of A are nonnegative, however, the permanent can be computed approximately in probabilistic polynomial time, up to an error of εM, where M is the value of the permanent and ε > 0 is arbitrary.
- Permanent at PlanetMath