Chapter 12: The Principle of Computational Equivalence

Section 3: The Content of the Principle

Oracles [for universal systems]

Following his introduction of Turing machines Alan Turing tried in 1937 to develop models that would somehow allow the ultimate result of absolutely every conceivable computation to be determined. And as a step towards this, he introduced the idea of oracles which would give results of computations that could not be found by any Turing machine in any limited number of steps. He then noted, for example, that if an oracle were set up that could answer the question for a particular universal system of whether that system would ever halt when given any specific input, then with an appropriate transformation of input this same oracle could also answer the question for any other system that can be emulated by the universal system. But it turns out that this is no longer true if one allows systems which themselves can access the oracle in the course of their evolution. Yet one can then imagine a higher-level oracle for these systems, and indeed a whole hierarchy of levels of oracles—as studied in the theory of degrees of unsolvability. (Note that for example to answer the question of whether or not a given Turing machine always halts can require a second-order oracle, since it is a Π2 question in the sense of page 1139.)

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]