The universal algorithm: a new simple proof of Woodin’s theorem

This is the third in a series of posts I’ve made recently concerning what I call the universal algorithm, which is a program that can in principle compute any function, if only you should run it in the right universe. Earlier, I had presented a few elementary proofs of this surprising theorem: see Every function can be computable! and A program that accepts exactly any desired finite set, in the right universe.

$\newcommand\PA{\text{PA}}$Those arguments established the universal algorithm, but they fell short of proving Woodin’s interesting strengthening of the theorem, which explains how the universal algorithm can be extended from any arithmetic universe to a larger one, in such a way so as to extend the given enumerated sequence in any desired manner. Woodin emphasized how his theorem raises various philosophical issues about the absoluteness or rather the non-absoluteness of finiteness, which I find extremely interesting.

Woodin’s proof, however, is a little more involved than the simple arguments I provided for the universal algorithm alone. Please see the paper Blanck, R., and Enayat, A. Marginalia on a theorem of Woodin, The Journal of Symbolic Logic, 82(1), 359-374, 2017. doi:10.1017/jsl.2016.8 for a further discussion of Woodin’s argument and related results.

What I’ve recently discovered, however, is that in fact one can prove Woodin’s stronger version of the theorem using only the method of the elementary argument. This variation also allows one to drop the countability requirement on the models, as was done by Blanck and Enayat. My thinking on this argument was greatly influenced by a comment of Vadim Kosoy on my original post.

It will be convenient to adopt an enumeration model of Turing computability, by which we view a Turing machine program as providing a means to computably enumerate a list of numbers. We start the program running, and it generates a list of numbers, possibly finite, possibly infinite, possibly empty, possibly with repetition. This way of using Turing machines is fully Turing equivalent to the usual way, if one simply imagines enumerating input/output pairs so as to code any given computable partial function.

Theorem.(Woodin) There is a Turing machine program $e$ with the following properties.

  1. $\PA$ proves that $e$ enumerates a finite sequence of numbers.
  2. For any finite sequence $s$, there is a model $M$ of $\PA$ in which program $e$ enumerates exactly $s$.
  3. For any model $M$ in which $e$ enumerates a (possibly nonstandard) sequence $s$ and any $t\in M$ extending $s$, there is an end-extension $N$ of $M$ in which $e$ enumerates exactly $t$.

It is statement (3) that makes this theorem stronger than merely the universal algorithm that I mentioned in my earlier posts and which I find particularly to invite philosophical speculation on the provisional nature of finiteness. After all, if in one universe the program $e$ enumerates a finite sequence $s$, then for any $t$ extending $s$ — we might imagine having painted some new pattern $t$ on top of $s$ — there is a taller universe in which $e$ enumerates exactly $t$. So we need only wait long enough (into the next universe), and then our program $e$ will enumerate exactly the sequence $t$ we had desired.

Proof. This is the new elementary proof.  Let’s begin by recalling the earlier proof of the universal algorithm, for statements (1) and (2) only. Namely, let $e$ be the program that undertakes a systematic exhaustive search through all proofs from $\PA$ for a proof of a statement of the form, “program $e$ does not enumerate exactly the sequence $s$,” where $s$ is an explicitly listed finite sequence of numbers. Upon finding such a proof (the first such proof found), it proceeds to enumerate exactly the numbers appearing in $s$.  Thus, at bottom, the program $e$ is a petulant child: it searches for a proof that it shouldn’t behave in a certain way, and then proceeds at once to behave in exactly the forbidden manner.

(The reader may notice an apparent circularity in the definition of program $e$, since we referred to $e$ when defining $e$. But this is no problem at all, and it is a standard technique in computability theory to use the Kleene recursion theorem to show that this kind of definition is completely fine. Namely, we really define a program $f(e)$ that performs that task, asking about $e$, and then by the recursion theorem, there is a program $e$ such that $e$ and $f(e)$ compute the same function, provably so. And so for this fixed-point program $e$, it is searching for proofs about itself.)

It is clear that the program $e$ will enumerate a finite list of numbers only, since either it never finds the sought-after proof, in which case it enumerates nothing, and the empty sequence is finite, or else it does find a proof, in which case it enumerates exactly the finitely many numbers explicitly appearing in the statement that was proved. So $\PA$ proves that in any case $e$ enumerates a finite list. Further, if $\PA$ is consistent, then you will not be able to refute any particular finite sequence being enumerated by $e$, because if you could, then (for the smallest such instance) the program $e$ would in fact enumerate exactly those numbers, and this would be provable, contradicting $\text{Con}(\PA)$. Precisely because you cannot refute that statement, it follows that the theory $\PA$ plus the assertion that $e$ enumerates exactly $s$ is consistent, for any particular $s$. So there is a model $M$ of $\PA$ in which program $e$ enumerates exactly $s$. This establishes statements (1) and (2) for this program.

Let me now modify the program in order to achieve the key third property. Note that the program described above definitely does not have property (3), since once a nonempty sequence $s$ is enumerated, then the program is essentially finished, and so running it in a taller universe $N$ will not affect the sequence it enumerates. To achieve (3), therefore, we modify the program by allowing it to add more to the sequence.

Specfically, for the new modified version of the program $e$, we start as before by searching for a proof in $\PA$ that the list enumerated by $e$ is not exactly some explicitly listed finite sequence $s$. When this proof is found, then $e$ immediately enumerates the numbers appearing in $s$. Next, it inspects the proof that it had found. Since the proof used only finitely many $\PA$ axioms, it is therefore a proof from a certain fragment $\PA_n$, the $\Sigma_n$ fragment of $\PA$. Now, the algorithm $e$ continues by searching for a proof in a strictly smaller fragment that program $e$ does not enumerate exactly some explicitly listed sequence $t$ properly extending the sequence of numbers already enumerated. When such a proof is found, it then immediately enumerates (the rest of) those numbers. And now simply iterate this, looking for new proofs in still-smaller fragments of $\PA$ that a still-longer extension is not the sequence enumerated by $e$.

Succinctly: the program $e$ searches for a proof, in a strictly smaller fragment of $\PA$ each time, that $e$ does not enumerate exactly a certain explicitly listed sequence $s$ extending whatever has been already enumerated so far, and when found, it enumerates those new elements, and repeats.

We can still prove in $\PA$ that $e$ enumerates a finite sequence, since the fragment of $\PA$ that is used each time is going down, and $\PA$ proves that this can happen only finitely often. So statement (1) holds.

Again, you cannot refute that any particular finite sequence $s$ is the sequence enumerated by $e$, since if you could do this, then in the standard model, the program would eventually find such a proof, and then perhaps another and another, until ultimately, it would find some last proof that $e$ does not enumerate exactly some finite sequence $t$, at which time the program will have enumerated exactly $t$ and never afterward add to it. So that proof would have proved a false statement. This is a contradiction, since that proof is standard.

So again, precisely because you cannot refute these statements, it follows that it is consistent with $\PA$ that program $e$ enumerates exactly $s$, for any particular finite $s$. So statement (2) holds.

Finally, for statement (3), suppose that $M$ is a model of $\PA$ in which $e$ enumerates exactly some finite sequence $s$. If $s$ is the empty sequence, then $M$ thinks that there is no proof in $\PA$ that $e$ does not enumerate exactly $t$, for any particular $t$. And so it thinks the theory $\PA+$ “$e$ enumerates exactly $t$” is consistent. So in $M$ we may build the Henkin model $N$ of this theory, which is an end-extension of $M$ in which $e$ enumerates exactly $t$, as desired.

If alternatively $s$ was nonempty, then it was enumerated by $e$ in $M$ because in $M$ there was ultimately a proof in some fragment $\PA_n$ that it should not do so, but it never found a corresponding proof about an extension of $s$ in any strictly smaller fragment of $\PA$.  So $M$ has a proof from $\PA_n$ that $e$ does not enumerate exactly $s$, even though it did.

Notice that $n$ must be nonstandard, because $M$ has a definable $\Sigma_k$-truth predicate for every standard $k$, and using this predicate, $M$ can see that every $\PA_k$-provable statement must be true.

Precisely because the model $M$ lacked the proofs from the strictly smaller fragment $\PA_{n-1}$, it follows that for any particular finite $t$ extending $s$ in $M$, the model thinks that the theory $T=\PA_{n-1}+$ “$e$ enumerates exactly $t$” is consistent. Since $n$ is nonstandard, this theory includes all the actual $\PA$ axioms. In $M$ we can build the Henkin model $N$ of this theory, which will be an end-extension of $M$ in which $\PA$ holds and program $e$ enumerates exactly $t$, as desired for statement (3). QED

Corollary. Let $e$ be the universal algorithm program $e$ of the theorem. Then

  1. For any infinite sequence $S:\mathbb{N}\to\mathbb{N}$, there is a model $M$ of $\PA$ in which program $e$ enumerates a (nonstandard finite) sequence starting with $S$.
  2. If $M$ is any model of $\PA$ in which program $e$ enumerates some (possibly nonstandard) finite sequence $s$, and $S$ is any $M$-definable infinite sequence extending $s$, then there is an end-extension of $M$ in which $e$ enumerates a sequence starting with $S$.

Proof. (1) Fix $S:\mathbb{N}\to\mathbb{N}$. By a simple compactness argument, there is a model $M$ of true arithmetic in which the sequence $S$ is the standard part of some coded nonstandard finite sequence $t$. By the main theorem, there is some end-extension $M^+$ of $M$ in which $e$ enumerates $t$, which extends $S$, as desired.

(2) If $e$ enumerates $s$ in $M$, a model of $\PA$, and $S$ is an $M$-infinite sequence definable in $M$, then by a compactness argument inside $M$, we can build a model $M’$ inside $M$ in which $S$ is coded by an element, and then apply the main theorem to find a further end-extension $M^+$ in which $e$ enumerates that element, and hence which enumerates an extension of $S$. QED

A program that accepts exactly any desired finite set, in the right universe

One_small_step_(3598325560)Last year I made a post about the universal program, a Turing machine program $p$ that can in principle compute any desired function, if it is only run inside a suitable model of set theory or arithmetic.  Specifically, there is a program $p$, such that for any function $f:\newcommand\N{\mathbb{N}}\N\to\N$, there is a model $M\models\text{PA}$ — or of $\text{ZFC}$, whatever theory you like — inside of which program $p$ on input $n$ gives output $f(n)$.

This theorem is related to a very interesting theorem of W. Hugh Woodin’s, which says that there is a program $e$ such that $\newcommand\PA{\text{PA}}\PA$ proves $e$ accepts only finitely many inputs, but such that for any finite set $A\subset\N$, there is a model of $\PA$ inside of which program $e$ accepts exactly the elements of $A$. Actually, Woodin’s theorem is a bit stronger than this in a way that I shall explain.

Victoria Gitman gave a very nice talk today on both of these theorems at the special session on Computability theory: Pushing the Boundaries at the AMS sectional meeting here in New York, which happens to be meeting right here in my east midtown neighborhood, a few blocks from my home.

What I realized this morning, while walking over to Vika’s talk, is that there is a very simple proof of the version of Woodin’s theorem stated above.  The idea is closely related to an idea of Vadim Kosoy mentioned in my post last year. In hindsight, I see now that this idea is also essentially present in Woodin’s proof of his theorem, and indeed, I find it probable that Woodin had actually begun with this idea and then modified it in order to get the stronger version of his result that I shall discuss below.

But in the meantime, let me present the simple argument, since I find it to be very clear and the result still very surprising.

Theorem. There is a Turing machine program $e$, such that

  1. $\PA$ proves that $e$ accepts only finitely many inputs.
  2. For any particular finite set $A\subset\N$, there is a model $M\models\PA$ such that inside $M$, the program $e$ accepts all and only the elements of $A$.
  3. Indeed, for any set $A\subset\N$, including infinite sets, there is a model $M\models\PA$ such that inside $M$, program $e$ accepts $n$ if and only if $n\in A$.

Proof.  The program $e$ simply performs the following task:  on any input $n$, search for a proof from $\PA$ of a statement of the form “program $e$ does not accept exactly the elements of $\{n_1,n_2,\ldots,n_k\}$.” Accept nothing until such a proof is found. For the first such proof that is found, accept $n$ if and only if $n$ is one of those $n_i$’s.

In short, the program $e$ searches for a proof that $e$ doesn’t accept exactly a certain finite set, and when such a proof is found, it accepts exactly the elements of this set anyway.

Clearly, $\PA$ proves that program $e$ accepts only a finite set, since either no such proof is ever found, in which case $e$ accepts nothing (and the empty set is finite), or else such a proof is found, in which case $e$ accepts only that particular finite set. So $\PA$ proves that $e$ accepts only finitely many inputs.

But meanwhile, assuming $\PA$ is consistent, then you cannot refute the assertion that program $e$ accepts exactly the elements of some particular finite set $A$, since if you could prove that from $\PA$, then program $e$ actually would accept exactly that set (for the shortest such proof), in which case this would also be provable, contradicting the consistency of $\PA$.

Since you cannot refute any particular finite set as the accepting set for $e$, it follows that it is consistent with $\PA$ that $e$ accepts any particular finite set $A$ that you like. So there is a model of $\PA$ in which $e$ accepts exactly the elements of $A$. This establishes statement (2).

Statement (3) now follows by a simple compactness argument. Namely, for any $A\subset\N$, let $T$ be the theory of $\PA$ together with the assertions that program $e$ accepts $n$, for any particular $n\in A$, and the assertions that program $e$ does not accept $n$, for $n\notin A$. Any finite subtheory of this theory is consistent, by statement (2), and so the whole theory is consistent. Any model of this theory realizes statement (3). QED

One uses the Kleene recursion theorem to show the existence of the program $e$, which makes reference to $e$ in the description of what it does. Although this may look circular, it is a standard technique to use the recursion theorem to eliminate the circularity.

This theorem immediately implies the classical result of Mostowski and Kripke that there is an independent family of $\Pi^0_1$ assertions, since the assertions $n\notin W_e$ are exactly such a family.

The theorem also implies a strengthening of the universal program theorem that I proved last year. Indeed, the two theorems can be realized with the same program!

Theorem. There is a Turing machine program $e$ with the following properties:

  1. $\PA$ proves that $e$ computes a finite function;
  2. For any particular finite partial function $f$ on $\N$, there is a model $M\models\PA$ inside of which program $e$ computes exactly $f$.
  3. For any partial function $f:\N\to\N$, finite or infinite, there is a model $M\models\PA$ inside of which program $e$ on input $n$ computes exactly $f(n)$, meaning that $e$ halts on $n$ if and only if $f(n)\downarrow$ and in this case $\varphi_e(n)=f(n)$.

Proof. The proof of statements (1) and (2) is just as in the earlier theorem. It is clear that $e$ computes a finite function, since either it computes the empty function, if no proof is found, or else it computes the finite function mentioned in the proof. And you cannot refute any particular finite function for $e$, since if you could, it would have exactly that behavior anyway, contradicting $\text{Con}(\PA)$. So statement (2) holds. But meanwhile, we can get statement (3) by a simple compactness argument. Namely, fix $f$ and let $T$ be the theory asserting $\PA$ plus all the assertions either that $\varphi_e(n)\uparrow$, if $n$ is not the domain of $f$, and $\varphi_e(n)=k$, if $f(n)=k$.  Every finite subtheory of this theory is consistent, by statement (2), and so the whole theory is consistent. But any model of this theory exactly fulfills statement (3). QED

Woodin’s proof is more difficult than the arguments I have presented, but I realize now that this extra difficulty is because he is proving an extremely interesting and stronger form of the theorem, as follows.

Theorem. (Woodin) There is a Turing machine program $e$ such that $\PA$ proves $e$ accepts at most a finite set, and for any finite set $A\subset\N$ there is a model $M\models\PA$ inside of which $e$ accepts exactly $A$. And furthermore, in any such $M$ and any finite $B\supset A$, there is an end-extension $M\subset_{end} N\models\PA$, such that in $N$, the program $e$ accepts exactly the elements of $B$.

This is a much more subtle claim, as well as philosophically interesting for the reasons that he dwells on.

The program I described above definitely does not achieve this stronger property, since my program $e$, once it finds the proof that $e$ does not accept exactly $A$, will accept exactly $A$, and this will continue to be true in all further end-extensions of the model, since that proof will continue to be the first one that is found.

Games with the computable-play paradox

The_Chess_Game_-_Sofonisba_AnguissolaLet me tell you about a fascinating paradox arising in certain infinitary two-player games of perfect information. The paradox, namely, is that there are games for which our judgement of who has a winning strategy or not depends on whether we insist that the players play according to a deterministic computable procedure. In the the space of computable play for these games, one player has a winning strategy, but in the full space of all legal play, the other player can ensure a win.

The fundamental theorem of finite games, proved in 1913 by Zermelo, is the assertion that in every finite two-player game of perfect information — finite in the sense that every play of the game ends in finitely many moves — one of the players has a winning strategy. This is generalized to the case of open games, games where every win for one of the players occurs at a finite stage, by the Gale-Stewart theorem 1953, which asserts that in every open game, one of the players has a winning strategy. Both of these theorems are easily adapted to the case of games with draws, where the conclusion is that one of the players has a winning strategy or both players have draw-or-better strategies.

Let us consider games with a computable game tree, so that we can compute whether or not a move is legal. Let us say that such a game is computably paradoxical, if our judgement of who has a winning strategy depends on whether we restrict to computable play or not. So for example, perhaps one player has a winning strategy in the space of all legal play, but the other player has a computable strategy defeating all computable strategies of the opponent. Or perhaps one player has a draw-or-better strategy in the space of all play, but the other player has a computable strategy defeating computable play.

Examples of paradoxical games occur in infinite chess. We described such a paradoxical position in my paper Transfinite games values in infinite chess by giving a computable infinite chess position with the property that both players had drawing strategies in the space of all possible legal play, but in the space of computable play, then white had a computable strategy defeating any particular computable strategy for black.

For a related non-chess example, let $T$ be a computable subtree of $2^{<\omega}$ having no computable infinite branch, and consider the game in which black simply climbs in this tree as white watches, with black losing whenever he is trapped in a terminal node, but winning if he should climb infinitely. This game is open for white, since if white wins, this is known at a finite stage of play. In the space of all possible play, Black has a winning strategy, which is simply to climb the tree along an infinite branch, which exists by König’s lemma. But there is no computable strategy to find such a branch, by the assumption on the tree, and so when black plays computably, white will inevitably win.

For another example, suppose that we have a computable linear order $\lhd$ on the natural numbers $\newcommand\N{\mathbb{N}}\N$, which is not a well order, but which has no computable infinite descending sequence. It is a nice exercise in computable model theory to show that such an order exists. If we play the count-down game in this order, with white trying to build a descending sequence and black watching. In the space of all play, white can succeed and therefore has a winning strategy, but since there is no computable descending sequence, white can have no computable winning strategy, and so black will win every computable play.

There are several proofs of open determinacy (and see my MathOverflow post outlining four different proofs of the fundamental theorem of finite games), but one of my favorite proofs of open determinacy uses the concept of transfinite game values, assigning an ordinal to some of the positions in the game tree. Suppose we have an open game between Alice and Bob, where the game is open for Alice. The ordinal values we define for positions in the game tree will measure in a sense the distance Alice is away from winning. Namely, her already-won positions have value $0$, and if it is Alice’s turn to play from a position $p$, then the value of $p$ is $\alpha+1$, if $\alpha$ is minimal such that she can play to a position of value $\alpha$; if it is Bob’s turn to play from $p$, and all the positions to which he can play have value, then the value of $p$ is the supremum of these values. Some positions may be left without value, and we can think of those positions as having value $\infty$, larger than any ordinal. The thing to notice is that if a position has a value, then Alice can always make it go down, and Bob cannot make it go up. So the value-reducing strategy is a winning strategy for Alice, from any position with value, while the value-maintaining strategy is winning for Bob, from any position without a value (maintaining value $\infty$). So the game is determined, depending on whether the initial position has value or not.

What is the computable analogue of the ordinal-game-value analysis in the computably paradoxical games? If a game is open for Alice and she has a computable strategy defeating all computable opposing strategies for Bob, but Bob has a non-computable winning strategy, then it cannot be that we can somehow assign computable ordinals to the positions for Alice and have her play the value-reducing strategy, since if those values were actual ordinals, then this would be a full honest winning strategy, even against non-computable play.

Nevertheless, I claim that the ordinal-game-value analysis does admit a computable analogue, in the following theorem. This came out of a discussion I had recently with Noah Schweber during his recent visit to the CUNY Graduate Center and Russell Miller. Let us define that a computable open game is an open game whose game tree is computable, so that we can tell whether a given move is legal from a given position (this is a bit weaker than being able to compute the entire set of possible moves from a position, even when this is finite). And let us define that an effective ordinal is a computable relation $\lhd$ on $\N$, for which there is no computable infinite descending sequence. Every computable ordinal is also an effective ordinal, but as we mentioned earlier, there are non-well-ordered effective ordinals. Let us call them computable pseudo-ordinals.

Theorem. The following are equivalent for any computable game, open for White.

  1. White has a computable strategy defeating any computable play by Black.
  2. There is an effective game-value assignment for white into an effective ordinal $\lhd$, giving the initial position a value. That is, there is a computable assignment of some positions of the game, including the first position, to values in the field of $\lhd$, such that from any valued position with White to play, she can play so as to reduce value, and with Black to play, he cannot increase the value.

Proof. ($2\to 1$) Given the computable values into an effective ordinal, then the value-reducing strategy for White is a computable strategy. If Black plays computably, then together they compute a descending sequence in the $\lhd$ order. Since there is no computable infinite descending sequence, it must be that the values hit zero and the game ends with a win for White. So White has a computable strategy defeating any computable play by Black.

($1\to 2$) Conversely, suppose that White has a computable strategy $\sigma$ defeating any computable play by Black. Let $\tau$ be the subtree of the game tree arising by insisting that White follow the strategy $\sigma$, and view this as a tree on $\N$, a subtree of $\N^{<\omega}$. Imagine the tree growing downwards, and let $\lhd$ be the Kleene-Brouwer order on this tree, which is the lexical order on incompatible positions, and otherwise longer positions are lower. This is a computable linear order on the tree. Since $\sigma$ is computably winning for White, the open player, it follows that every computable descending sequence in $\tau$ eventually reaches a terminal node. From this, it follows that there is no computable infinite descending sequence with respect to $\lhd$, and so this is an effective ordinal. We may now map every node in $\tau$, which includes the initial node, to itself in the $\lhd$ order. This is a game-value assignment, since on White’s turn, the value goes down, and it doesn’t go up on Black’s turn. QED

Corollary. A computable open game is computably paradoxical if and only if it admits an effective game value assignment for the open player, but only with computable pseudo-ordinals and not with computable ordinals.

Proof. If there is an effective game value assignment for the open player, then the value-reducing strategy arising from that assignment is a computable strategy defeating any computable strategy for the opponent. Conversely, if the game is paradoxical, there can be no such ordinal-assignment where the values are actually well-ordered, or else that strategy would work against all play by the opponent. QED

Let me make a few additional observations about these paradoxical games.

Theorem. In any open game, if the closed player has a strategy defeating all computable opposing strategies, then in fact this is a winning strategy also against non-computable play.

Proof. If the closed player has a strategy $\sigma$ defeating all computable strategies of the opponent, then in fact it defeats all strategies of the opponent, since any winning play by the open player against $\sigma$ wins in finitely many moves, and therefore there is a computable strategy giving rise to the same play. QED

Corollary. If an open game is computably paradoxical, it must be the open player who wins in the space of computable play and the closed player who wins in the space of all play.

Proof. The theorem shows that if the closed player wins in the space of computable play, then that player in fact wins in the space of all play. QED

Corollary. There are no computably paradoxical clopen games.

Proof. If the game is clopen, then both players are closed, but we just argued that any computable strategy for a closed player winning against all computable play is also winning against all play. QED

Every function can be computable!

I’d like to share a simple proof I’ve discovered recently of a surprising fact:  there is a universal algorithm, capable of computing any given function!

Wait, what? What on earth do I mean? Can’t we prove that some functions are not computable?  Yes, of course.

What I mean is that there is a universal algorithm, a Turing machine program capable of computing any desired function, if only one should run the program in the right universe. There is a Turing machine program $p$ with the property that for any function $f:\newcommand\N{\mathbb{N}}\N\to\N$ on the natural numbers, including non-computable functions, there is a model of arithmetic or set theory inside of which the function computed by $p$ agrees exactly with $f$ on all standard finite input. You have to run the program in a different universe in order that it will compute your desired function $f$.
$\newcommand\ZFC{\text{ZFC}}
\newcommand\PA{\text{PA}}
\newcommand\Con{\mathop{\text{Con}}}
\newcommand\proves{\vdash}
\newcommand{\concat}{\mathbin{{}^\smallfrown}}
\newcommand\restrict{\upharpoonright}
$
Theorem There is a Turing machine program $p$, carrying out the specific algorithm described in the proof, such that for any function $f:\N\to\N$, there is a model of arithmetic $M\models\PA$, or indeed a model of set theory $M\models\ZFC$ or more (if consistent), such that the function computed by program $p$ inside $M$ agrees exactly with $f$ on all standard finite input.

Tunnels of Time.jpg

The proof is elementary, relying essentially only on the ideas of the classical proof of the Gödel-Rosser theorem. To briefly review, for any computably axiomatized theory $T$ extending $\PA$, there is a corresponding sentence $\rho$, called the Rosser sentence, which asserts, “for any proof of $\rho$ in $T$, there is a smaller proof of $\neg\rho$.” That is, by smaller, I mean that the Gödel-code of the proof is smaller. One constructs the sentence $\rho$ by a simple application of the Gödel fixed-point lemma, just as one constructs the usual Gödel sentence that asserts its own non-provability. The basic classical facts concerning the Rosser sentence include the following:

  • If $T$ is consistent, then so are both $T+\rho$ and $T+\neg\rho$
  • $\PA+\Con(T)$ proves $\rho$.
  • The theories $T$, $T+\rho$ and $T+\neg\rho$ are equiconsistent.
  • If $T$ is consistent, then $T+\rho$ does not prove $\Con(T)$.

The first statement is the essential assertion of the Gödel-Rosser theorem, and it is easy to prove: if $T$ is consistent and $T\proves\rho$, then the proof would be finite in the meta-theory, and so since $T$ would have to prove that there is a smaller proof of $\neg\rho$, that proof would also be finite in the meta-theory and hence an actual proof, contradicting the consistency of $T$. Similarly, if $T\proves\neg\rho$, then the proof would be finite in the meta-theory, and so $T$ would be able to verify that $\rho$ is true, and so $T\proves\rho$, again contradicting consistency. By internalizing the previous arguments to PA, we see that $\PA+\Con(T)$ will prove that neither $\rho$ nor $\neg\rho$ are provable in $T$, making $\rho$ vacuously true in this case and also establishing $\Con(T+\rho)$ and $\Con(T+\neg\rho)$, for the second and third statements. In particular, $T+\Con(T)\proves\Con(T+\rho)$, which implies that $T+\rho$ does not prove $\Con(T)$ by the incompleteness theorem applied to the theory $T+\rho$, for the fourth statement.

Let’s now proceed to the proof of the theorem. To begin, we construct what I call the Rosser tree over a c.e. theory $T$. Namely, we recursively define theories $R_s$ for each finite binary string $s\in 2^{{<}\omega}$, placing the initial theory $R_{\emptyset}=T$ at the root, and then recursively adding either the Rosser sentence $\rho_s$ for the theory $R_s$ or its negation $\neg\rho_s$ at each stage to form the theories at the next level of the tree.
$$R_{s\concat 1}=R_s+\rho_s$$
$$R_{s\concat 0}=R_s+\neg\rho_s$$
Each theory $R_s$ is therefore a finite extension of $T$ by successively adding the appropriate Rosser sentences or their negations in the pattern described by $s$. If the initial theory $T$ is consistent, then it follows by induction using the Gödel-Rosser theorem that all the theories $R_s$ in the Rosser tree are consistent. Extending our notation to the branches through the tree, if $f\in{}^\omega 2$ is an infinite binary sequence, we let $R_f=\bigcup_n R_{f\upharpoonright n}$ be the union of the theories arising along that branch of the Rosser tree. In this way, we have constructed a perfect set of continuum many distinct consistent theories.

I shall now describe a universal algorithm for the case of computing binary functions. Consider the Rosser tree over the theory $T=\PA+\neg\Con(\PA)$. This is a consistent theory that happens to prove its own inconsistency. By considering the Gödel-codes in order, the algorithm should begin by searching for a proof of the Rosser sentence $\rho_{\emptyset}$ or its negation in the initial theory $R_{\emptyset}$. If such a proof is ever found, then the algorithm outputs $0$ or $1$ on input $0$, respectively, depending on whether it was the Rosser sentence or its negation that was found first, and moves to the next theory in the Rosser tree by adding the opposite statement to the current theory. Then, it starts searching for a proof of the Rosser sentence of that theory or its negation. At each stage in the algorithm, there is a current theory $R_s$, depending on which prior proofs have been found, and the algorithm searches for a proof of $\rho_s$ or $\neg\rho_s$. If found, it outputs $0$ or $1$ accordingly (on input $n=|s|$), and moves to the next theory in the Rosser tree by adding the opposite statement to the current theory.

If $f:\N\to 2=\{0,1\}$ is any binary function on the natural numbers, then let $R_f$ be the theory arising from the corresponding path through the Rosser tree, and let $M\models R_f$ be a model of this theory. I claim that the universal algorithm I just described will compute exactly $f(n)$ on input $n$ inside this model. The thing to notice is that because $\neg\Con(\PA)$ was part of the initial theory, the model $M$ will think that all the theories in the Rosser tree are inconsistent. So the model will have plenty of proofs of every statement and its negation for any theory in the Rosser tree, and so in particular, the function computed by $p$ in $M$ will be a total function. The question is which proofs will come first at each stage, affecting the values of the function. Let $s=f\restrict n$ and notice that $R_s$ is true in $M$. Suppose inductively that the function computed by $p$ has worked correctly below $n$ in $M$, and consider stage $n$ of the procedure. By induction, the current theory will be exactly $R_s$, and the algorithm will be searching for a proof of $\rho_s$ or its negation in $R_s$. Notice that $f(n)=1$ just in case $\rho_s$ is true in $M$, and because of what $\rho_s$ asserts and the fact that $M$ thinks it is provable in $R_s$, it must be that there is a smaller proof of $\neg\rho_s$. So in this case, the algorithm will find the proof of $\neg\rho_s$ first, and therefore, according to the precise instructions of the algorithm, it will output $1$ on input $n$ and add $\rho_s$ (the opposite statement) to the current theory, moving to the theory $R_{s\concat 1}$ in the Rosser tree. Similarly, if $f(n)=0$, then $\neg\rho_s$ will be true in $M$, and the algorithm will therefore first find a proof of $\rho_s$, give output $0$ and add $\neg\rho_s$ to the current theory, moving to $R_{s\concat 0}$. In this way, the algorithm finds the proofs in exactly the right way so as to have $R_{f\restrict n}$ as the current theory at stage $n$ and thereby compute exactly the function $f$, as desired.

Basically, the theory $R_f$ asserts exactly that the proofs will be found in the right order in such a way that program $p$ will exactly compute $f$ on all standard finite input. So every binary function $f$ is computed by the algorithm in any model of the theory $R_f$.

Let me now explain how to extend the result to handle all functions $g:\N\to\N$, rather than only the binary functions as above. The idea is simply to modify the binary universal algorithm in a simple way. Any function $g:\N\to \N$ can be coded with a binary function $f:\N\to 2$ in a canonical way, for example, by having successive blocks of $1$s in $f$, separated by $0$s, with the $n^{\rm th}$ block of size $g(n)$. Let $q$ be the algorithm that runs the binary universal algorithm described above, thereby computing a binary sequence, and then extract from that binary sequence a corresponding function from $\N$ to $\N$ (this may fail, if for example, the binary sequence is finite or if it has only finitely many $0$s). Nevertheless, for any function $g:\N\to \N$ there is a binary function $f:\N\to 2$ coding it in the way we have described, and in any model $M\models R_f$, the binary universal algorithm will compute $f$, causing this adapted algorithm to compute exactly $g$ on all standard finite input, as desired.

Finally, let me describe how to extend the result to work with models of set theory, rather than models of arithmetic. Suppose that $\ZFC^+$ is a consistent c.e. extension of ZFC; perhaps it is ZFC itself, or ZFC plus some large cardinal axioms. Let $T=\ZFC^++\neg\Con(\ZFC^+)$ be a slightly stronger theory, which is also consistent, by the incompleteness theorem. Since $T$ interprets arithmetic, the theory of Rosser sentences applies, and so we may build the corresponding Rosser tree over $T$, and also we may undertake the binary universal algorithm using $T$ as the initial theory. If $f:\N\to 2$ is any binary function, then let $R_f$ be the theory arising on the corresponding branch through the Rosser tree, and suppose $M\models R_f$. This is a model of $\ZFC^+$, which also thinks that $\ZFC^+$ is inconsistent. So again, the universal algorithm will find plenty of proofs in this model, and as before, it will find the proofs in just the right order that the binary universal algorithm will compute exactly the function $f$. From this binary universal algorithm, one may again design an algorithm universal for all functions $g:\N\to\N$, as desired.

One can also get another kind of universality. Namely, there is a program $r$, such that for any finite $s\subset\N$, there is a model $M$ of $\PA$ (or $\ZFC$, etc.) such that inside the model $M$, the program $r$ will enumerate the set $s$ and nothing more. One can obtain such a program $r$ from the program $p$ of the theorem: just let $r$ run the universal binary program $p$ until a double $0$ is produced, and then interprets the finite binary string up to that point as the set $s$ to output.

Let me now also discuss another form of universality.

Corollary
There is a program $p$, such that for any model $M\models\PA+\Con(\PA)$ and any function $f:M\to M$ that is definable in $M$, there is an end-extension of $M$ to a taller model $N\models\PA$ such that in $N$, the function computed by program $p$ agrees exactly with $f$ on input in $M$.

Proof
We simply apply the main theorem inside $M$. The point is that if $M$ thinks $\Con(\PA)$, then it can build what it thinks is the tree of Rosser extensions, and it will think that each step maintains consistency. So the theory $T_f$ that it constructs will be consistent in $M$ and therefore have a model (the Henkin model) definable in $M$, which will therefore be an end-extension of $M$.
QED

This last application has a clear affinity with a theorem of Woodin’s, recently extended by Rasmus Blanck and Ali Enayat. See Victoria Gitman’s posts about her seminar talk on those theorems: Computable processes can produce arbitrary outputs in nonstandard models, continuation.

Alternative proof.  Here is an alternative elegant proof of the theorem based on the comments below of Vadim Kosoy. Let $T$ be any consistent computably axiomatizable theory interpreting PA, such as PA itself or ZFC or what have you. For any Turing machine program $e$, let $q(e)$ be a program carrying out the following procedure: on input $n$, search systematically for a finite function $h:X\to\mathbb{N}$, with $X$ finite and $n\in X$, and for a proof of the statement “program $p$ does not agree with $h$ on all inputs in $X$,” using the function $h$ simply as a list of values for this assertion. For the first such function and proof that is found, if any, give as output the value $h(n)$.

Since the function $e\mapsto q(e)$ is computable, there is by Kleene’s recursion theorem a program $p$ for which $p$ and $f(p)$ compute the same function, and furthermore, $T$ proves this.  So the program $p$ is searching for proofs that $p$ itself does not behave in a certain way, and then it is behaving in that way when such a proof is found.

I claim that the theory $T$ does not actually prove any of those statements, “program $p$ does not agree with $h$ on inputs in $X$,” for any particular finite function $h:X\to\mathbb{N}$. If it did prove such a statement, then for the smallest such function and proof, the output of $p$ would indeed be $h$ on all inputs in $X$, by design. Thus, there would also be a proof that the program did agree with this particular $h$, and so $T$ would prove a contradiction, contrary to our assumption that it was consistent. So $T$ actually proves none of those statements. In particular, the program $p$ computes the empty function in the standard model of arithmetic. But also, for any particular finite function $h:X\to\mathbb{N}$, we may consistently add the assertion “program $p$ agrees with $h$ on inputs in $X$” to $T$, since $T$ did not refute this assertion.

For any function $f:\mathbb{N}\to\mathbb{N}$, let $T_f$ be the theory $T$ together with all assertions of the form “program $p$ halts on input $n$ with value $k$”, for the particular value $k=f(n)$.  I claim that this theory is consistent, for if it is not, then by compactness there would be finitely many of the assertions that enable the inconsistency, and so there would be a finite function $h:X\to\mathbb{N}$, with $h=f\upharpoonright X$, such that $T$ proved the program $p$ does not agree with $h$ on inputs in $X$. But in the previous paragraph, we proved that this doesn’t happen. And so the theory $T_f$ is consistent.

Finally, note that in any model of $T_f$, the program $p$ computes the function $f$ on standard input, because these assertions are exactly made in the theory. QED

Transfinite game values in infinite chess and other infinite games, Hausdorff Center, Bonn, May 2014

Releasing the hordesI shall be very pleased to speak at the colloquium and workshop Infinity, computability, and metamathematics, celebrating the 60th birthdays of Peter Koepke and Philip Welch, held at the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics May 23-25, 2014 at the Universität Bonn.  My talk will be the Friday colloquium talk, for a general mathematical audience.

Abstract. I shall give a general introduction to the theory of infinite games, using infinite chess—chess played on an infinite edgeless chessboard—as a central example. Since chess, when won, is won at a finite stage of play, infinite chess is an example of what is known technically as an open game, and such games admit the theory of transfinite ordinal game values. I shall exhibit several interesting positions in infinite chess with very high transfinite game values. The precise value of the omega one of chess is an open mathematical question.

 

Slides | Schedule | Transfinite game values in infinite chess | The mate-in-n problem of infinite chess is decidable

Infinite chess and the theory of infinite games, Dartmouth Mathematics Colloquium, January 2014

Releasing the hordesThis will be a talk for the Dartmouth Mathematics Colloquium on January 23rd, 2014.

Dartmouth Green

Abstract. Using infinite chess as a central example—chess played on an infinite edgeless board—I shall give a general introduction to the theory of infinite games. Infinite chess is an example of what is called an open game, a potentially infinite game which when won is won at a finite stage of play, and every open game admits the theory of transfinite ordinal game values. These values provide a measure of the distance remaining to an actual victory, and when they are known, the game values provide a canonical winning strategy for the winning player. I shall exhibit

several interesting positions in infinite chess with high transfinite game values. The precise value of the omega one of chess, however, the supremum of all such ordinal game values, is an open mathematical question; in the case of infinite three-dimensional chess, meanwhile, Evans and I have proved that every countable ordinal arises as a game value. Infinite chess also illustrates an interesting engagement with computability issues. For example, there are computable infinite positions in infinite chess that are winning for white, provided that the players play according to a computable procedure of their own choosing, but which is no longer winning for white when non-computable play is allowed. Also, the mate-in-n problem for finite positions in infinite chess is computably decidable (joint work with Schlicht, Brumleve and myself), despite the high quantifier complexity of any straightforward representation of it. The talk will be generally accessible for mathematicians, particularly those with at least rudimentary knowledge of ordinals and of chess.

Poster | Slides (8mb) | Transfinite game values in infinite chess | The mate-in-n problem of infinite chess is decidable

Student talks on infinitary computability

Students in my Infinitary Computability course will give talks on their term papers.  Talks will be held at the CUNY Graduate Center, Room 3307, 9:30-11:30.

Monday, December 3rd

  • Miha Habič will speak on “Cardinal-Recognizing Infinite Time Turing Machines”, in which he develops the theory of infinite time Turing machines that are given information about when they have reached cardinal time.
  • Erin Carmody will speak on “Non-deterministic infinite time Turing machines”, in which she develops the theory of non-deterministic ITTM computation.
  • Alexy Nikolaev will speak on “Equivalence of ITTMs, and their simultation on a finite time computer,” in which we proves the equivalence of various formalizations of ITTMs.

Monday, December 10th

  • Manuel Alves will speak on infinite time computable model theory.
  • Syed Ali Ahmed will speak on the relation between Büchi automata and infinite time Turing machines, including $\omega$-regular languages and generalizations to longer transfinite strings.

The mate-in-n problem of infinite chess is decidable, Cambridge, June 2012

This will be a contributed talk at the Turing Centenary Conference CiE 2012 held June 18-23, 2012 in Cambridge, UK.

Abstract.  The mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess—chess played on an infinite edgeless board—is the problem of determining whether a designated player can force a win from a given finite position in at most $n$ moves. Although a straightforward formulation of this problem leads to assertions of high arithmetic complexity, with $2n$ alternating quantifiers,  the main theorem of this article nevertheless confirms a conjecture of the second author and C. D. A. Evans by establishing that it is computably decidable, uniformly in the position and in $n$. Furthermore, there is a computable strategy for optimal play from such mate-in-$n$ positions. The proof proceeds by showing that the mate-in-$n$ problem is expressible in what we call the first-order structure of chess $\frak{Ch}$, which we prove (in the relevant fragment) is an automatic structure, whose theory is therefore decidable. The structure is also definable in Presburger arithmetic. Unfortunately, this resolution of the mate-in-$n$ problem does not appear to settle the decidability of the more general winning-position problem, the problem of determining whether a designated player has a winning strategy from a given position, since a position may admit a winning strategy without any bound on the number of moves required. This issue is connected with transfinite game values in infinite chess, and the exact value of the omega one of chess $\omega_1^{\rm chess}$ is not known.

Article | Slides | CiE 2012 | Contributed talk schedule

The hierarchy of equivalence relations on the natural numbers under computable reducibility, Chicheley Hall, June 2012

 

This will be a talk at The Incomputable, a workshop held June 12-15, 2012 at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre at Chicheley Hall as a part of the program Semantics and Syntax: A Legacy of Alan Turing organized by the Isaac Newton Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, UK.

Abstract.  I will speak on the computable analogue of the theory of equivalence relations on the reals under Borel reducibility.  The Borel theory has been enormously successful in clarifying the hierarchy of classification problems arising throughout mathematics.  The computable analogue, meanwhile, appears to be particularly well-suited for an analysis of the c.e. instances of those problems, a rich context with many natural examples, such as the isomorphism relation on c.e. graphs or on computably presented groups.  In particular, every equivalence relation on countable structures has its natural restriction to the c.e. instances, which may be viewed as an equivalence relation on the indices of those c.e. sets.  Specifically, one equivalence relation E on the natural numbers is computably reducible to another F, if there is a computable function f such that n E m if and only if f(n) F f(m).   This reduction notion has beenMathematical discussions with Philip Welch introduced and studied independently by several different researchers and research groups.  In this talk, I will describe recent joint work with Sam Coskey and Russell Miller that fills out parts of the hierarchy.  An abundance of questions remain open.

Article | Slides | Workshop abstract 

The omega one of infinite chess, New York, 2012

This will be a talk on May 18, 2012 for the CUNY Set Theory Seminar.

Infinite chess is chess played on an infinite edgeless chessboard. The familiar chess pieces move about according to their usual chess rules, and each player strives to place the opposing king into checkmate.  The mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess is the problem of determining whether a designated player can force a win from a given finite position in at most $n$ moves.  A naive formulation of this problem leads to assertions of high arithmetic complexity with $2n$ alternating quantifiers—there is a move for white, such that for every black reply, there is a countermove for white, and so on. In such a formulation, the problem does not appear to be decidable; and one cannot expect to search an infinitely branching game tree even to finite depth. Nevertheless, in joint work with Dan Brumleve and Philipp Schlicht, confirming a conjecture of myself and C. D. A. Evans, we establish that the mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess is computably decidable, uniformly in the position and in $n$. Furthermore, there is a computable strategy for optimal play from such mate-in-$n$ positions. The proof proceeds by showing that the mate-in-$n$ problem is expressible in what we call the first-order structure of chess, which we prove (in the relevant fragment) is an automatic structure, whose theory is therefore decidable.  An equivalent account of the result arises from the realization that the structure of chess is interpretable in the standard model of Presburger arithmetic $\langle\mathbb{N},+\rangle$.  Unfortunately, this resolution of the mate-in-$n$ problem does not appear to settle the decidability of the more general winning-position problem, the problem of determining whether a designated player has a winning strategy from a given position, since a position may admit a winning strategy without any bound on the number of moves required. This issue is connected with transfinite game values in infinite chess, and the exact value of the omega one of chess $\omega_1^{\rm chess}$ is not known. I will also discuss recent joint work with C. D. A. Evans and W. Hugh Woodin showing that the omega one of infinite positions in three-dimensional infinite chess is true $\omega_1$: every countable ordinal is realized as the game value of such a position.

article | slides

A course in infinitary computability, Fall 2012, CUNY Graduate Center, CSC 85020

In Fall 2012 I will teach a graduate course on infinitary computability theory in the Computer Science program at the CUNY Graduate Center.   This course will be aimed at graduate students in computer science and mathematics who are interested in infinitary computational processes.

Infinitary computability, CSC 85020, Mondays, 9:30 – 11:30 am
CS course listings | this listing

This course will explore all the various infinitary theories of computability, including infinite time Turing machines, Blum-Shub-Smale computability, Büchi automata, ordinal register machines and others. The focus will be on introducing the computability models and comparing them to each other and to standard concepts of computability. In the early part of the course, we shall review the standard finitary computational models, before investigating the infinitary supertask analogues.

Students wishing to prepare for the course should review their understanding of Turing machines and the other theoretical machine models of computation.

Some of my articles on infinitary computability | Student talks on their infinitary computability term papers

The hierarchy of equivalence relations on the natural numbers under computable reducibility, Cambridge, March 2012

This is a talk I shall give at the workshop on Logical Approaches to Barriers in Complexity II, March 26-30, 2012, a part of the program Semantics and Syntax: A Legacy of Alan Turing at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, where I am currently a Visiting Fellow.

Many of the naturally arising equivalence relations in mathematics, such as isomorphism relations on various types of countable structures, turn out to be equivalence relations on a standard Borel space, and these relations form an intensely studied hierarchy under Borel reducibility.  The topic of this talk is to introduce and explore the computable analogue of this robust theory, by studying the corresponding hierarchy of equivalence relations on the natural numbers under computable reducibility.  Specifically, one relation $E$ is computably reducible to another $F$ , if there is a unary computable function $f$ such that $x\mathrel{E}y$ if and only if $f(x)\mathrel{F}f(y)$.  This gives rise to a very different hierarchy than the Turing degrees on such relations, since it is connected with the difficulty of the corresponding classification problems, rather than with the difficulty of computing the relations themselves.  The theory is well suited for an analysis of equivalence relations on classes of c.e.  structures, a rich context with many natural examples, such as the isomorphism relation on c.e. graphs or on computably presented groups.  An abundance of open questions remain, and the subject is an attractive mix of methods from mathematical logic, computability, set theory, particularly descriptive set theory, and the rest of mathematics, subjects in which many of the equivalence relations arise.  This is joint work with Sam Coskey and Russell Miller.

Slides | Slides (longer version, from a similar talk) | Article | Conference abstract | Video

Infinite chess: the mate-in-n problem is decidable and the omega-one of chess, Cambridge, March 2012

I have just taken up a visiting fellow position at the Isaac Newton Institute for mathematical sciences in Cambridge, UK, where I am participating in the program Syntax and Semantics:  the legacy of Alan Turing.   I was asked to give a brief introduction to some of my current work, and I chose to speak about infinite chess.

Infinite chess is chess played on an infinite edgeless chessboard. The familiar chess pieces move about according to their usual chess rules, and each player strives to place the opposing king into checkmate. The mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess is the problem of determining whether a designated player can force a win from a given finite position in at most $n$ moves. A naive formulation of this problem leads to assertions of high arithmetic complexity with $2n$ alternating quantifiers—there is a move for white, such that for every black reply, there is a countermove for white, and so on. In such a formulation, the problem does not appear to be decidable; and one cannot expect to search an infinitely branching game tree even to finite depth.

Nevertheless, in joint work with Dan Brumleve and Philipp Schlicht, confirming a conjecture of myself and C. D. A. Evans, we establish that the mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess is computably decidable, uniformly in the position and in $n$. Furthermore, there is a computable strategy for optimal play from such mate-in-$n$ positions. The proof proceeds by showing that the mate-in-$n$ problem is expressible in what we call the first-order structure of chess, which we prove (in the relevant fragment) is an automatic structure, whose theory is therefore decidable. Unfortunately, this resolution of the mate-in-n problem does not appear to settle the decidability of the more general winning-position problem, the problem of determining whether a designated player has a winning strategy from a given position, since a position may admit a winning strategy without any bound on the number of moves required. This issue is connected with transfinite game values in infinite chess, and the exact value of the omega one of chess $\omega_1^{\rm chess}$ is not known.  I will also discuss recent joint work with C. D. A. Evans and W. Hugh Woodin showing that the omega one of infinite positions in three-dimensional infinite chess is true $\omega_1$: every countable ordinal is realized as the game value of such a position.

 

article | slides | streaming videoprogram of abstracts

The hierarchy of equivalence relations on $\mathbb{N}$ under computable reducibility, New York March 2012

I gave a talk at the CUNY MAMLS conference March 9-10, 2012 at the City University of New York.

This talk will be about a generalization of the concept of Turing degrees to the hierarchy of equivalence relations on $\mathbb{N}$ under computable reducibility.  The idea is to develop a computable analogue of the enormously successful theory of equivalence relations on $\mathbb{R}$ under Borel reducibility, a theory which has led to deep insights on the complexity hierarchy of classification problems arising throughout mathematics. In the computable analogue, we consider the corresponding reduction notion in the context of Turing computability for relations on $\mathbb{N}$.  Specifically, one relation $E$ is computably reducible to another, $F$, if there is a computable function $f$ such that $x\mathrel{E} y$ if and only if $f(x)\mathrel{F} f(y)$.  This is a very different concept from mere Turing reducibility of $E$ to $F$, for it sheds light on the comparative difficulty of the classification problems corresponding to $E$ and $F$, rather than on the difficulty of computing the relations themselves.  In particular, the theory appears well suited for an analysis of equivalence relations on classes of c.e. structures, a rich context with many natural examples, such as the isomorphism relation on c.e. graphs or on computably presented groups. In this regard, our exposition extends earlier work in the literature concerning the classification of computable structures. An abundance of open questions remain.  This is joint work with Sam Coskey and Russell Miller.

articleslides | abstract on conference web page | related talk Florida MAMLS 2012 | Sam’s post on this topic

The mate-in-n problem of infinite chess is decidable

  • D. Brumleve, J. D. Hamkins, and P. Schlicht, “The Mate-in-$n$ Problem of Infinite Chess Is Decidable,” in How the World Computes, S. Cooper, A. Dawar, and B. Löwe, Eds., Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012, vol. 7318, pp. 78-88.  
    @incollection{BrumleveHamkinsSchlicht2012:TheMateInNProblemOfInfiniteChessIsDecidable,
    year= {2012}, isbn= {978-3-642-30869-7}, booktitle= {How the World Computes},
    volume= {7318}, series= {Lecture Notes in Computer Science}, editor= {Cooper,
    S.~Barry and Dawar, Anuj and L{\"o}we, Benedikt}, doi=
    {10.1007/978-3-642-30870-3_9}, title= {The Mate-in-$n$ Problem of Infinite
    Chess Is Decidable}, url= {},
    publisher= {Springer Berlin Heidelberg}, author= {Brumleve, Dan and Hamkins,
    Joel David and Schlicht, Philipp}, pages= {78-88},
    eprint = {1201.5597},
    archivePrefix = {arXiv},
    primaryClass = {math.LO},
    }

Infinite chess is chess played on an infinite edgeless chessboard. The familiar chess pieces move about according to their usual chess rules, and each player strives to place the opposing king into checkmate. The mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess is the problem of determining whether a designated player can force a win from a given finite position in at most $n$ moves. A naive formulation of this problem leads to assertions of high arithmetic complexity with $2n$ alternating quantifiers—*there is a move for white, such that for every black reply, there is a countermove for white*, and so on. In such a formulation, the problem does not appear to be decidable; and one cannot expect to search an infinitely branching game tree even to finite depth.

Nevertheless, the main theorem of this article, confirming a conjecture of the first author and C. D. A. Evans, establishes that the mate-in-$n$ problem of infinite chess is computably decidable, uniformly in the position and in $n$. Furthermore, there is a computable strategy for optimal play from such mate-in-$n$ positions. The proof proceeds by showing that the mate-in-$n$ problem is expressible in what we call the first-order structure of chess, which we prove (in the relevant fragment) is an automatic structure, whose theory is therefore decidable. Unfortunately, this resolution of the mate-in-$n$ problem does not appear to settle the decidability of the more general winning-position problem, the problem of determining whether a designated player has a winning strategy from a given position, since a position may admit a winning strategy without any bound on the number of moves required. This issue is connected with transfinite game values in infinite chess, and the exact value of the omega one of chess $\omega_1^{\frak{Ch}}$ is not known.

Richard Stanley’s question on mathoverflow: Decidability of chess on infinite board?