I am currently working on a research project with my PhD supervisor. The focus of this project is a sub-field that my supervisor has not previously published in and one that I am not familiar with. This sub-field has also been studied in the literature for more than 30 years. From past research experience, I am used to performing a literature review before a research project is started to answer the following questions:
- What has already been done?
- What is the current state-of-the-art (SOTA) algorithm?
- What improvements can be done to the SOTA?
Answering questions 1 and 2 simply involves gathering information from different papers. Answering question 3, however, is a bit more complicated, since this would involve understanding how the SOTA algorithm precisely works, and then identifying an area of improvement.
Moreover, the SOTA algorithm in this case is the result of incremental improvements of a basic algorithm that was proposed 20-30 years ago. Since I am not familiar with the field, then understanding how the SOTA algorithm works would involve understanding how the basic algorithm works and then understanding the incremental improvements that were implemented.
The problem is that understanding and re-implementing the basic algorithm would take approximately 2-3 months. This is because it requires technical background that I do not yet have. My PhD supervisor is aware of this, and because of this, has proposed that we do not bother with re-implementing the basic algorithm or the SOTA algorithm and instead try to approach the problem from a completely different perspective, that has not been previously proposed in the literature, using the technical knowledge that we are familiar with.
While I do appreciate my supervisor's ambition, I have a few concerns:
- This field has been studied for over 30 years. Complete books have been written about it. The fact that nobody bothered to go down the path that we are exploring strongly suggests that it is not a fruitful one.
- Because we would essentially be ignoring the literature, we would be re-inventing the wheel a lot of the time. This means we would be making a lot of mistakes, learning from them, and then most likely end up implementing what was already done in the literature. This would waste a lot of time.
- Even if we do end up designing an algorithm, there is no guarantee that it will improve on the SOTA. If it doesn't, then what?
Are my concerns justified? For my third concern, I am not sure if improving on the SOTA is always the goal of publication, and it is possible that some conferences will appreciate a new approach to an existing problem, even if it doesn't improve on the SOTA. However, I am not sure about this.