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turns out that such a question is almost inevitably undecidable if it is asked about a system that exhibits computational irreducibility.

So what about finite questions?

Such questions can ultimately always be answered by finite computations. But when computational irreducibility is present such computations can be forced to have a certain level of difficulty which sometimes makes them quite intractable.

When one does practical computing one tends to assess the difficulty of a computation by seeing how much time it takes and perhaps how big a program it involves and how much memory it needs.

But normally one has no way to tell whether the scheme one has for doing a particular computation is the most efficient possible. And in the past there have certainly been several instances when new algorithms have suddenly allowed all sorts of computations to be done much more efficiently than had ever been thought possible before.

Indeed, despite great efforts in the field of computational complexity theory over the course of several decades almost no firm lower bounds on the difficulty of computations have ever been established. But using the methods of this book it turns out to be possible to begin to get at least a few results.

The key is to consider very small programs. For with such programs it becomes realistic to enumerate every single one of a particular kind, and then just to see explicitly which is the most efficient at performing some specific computation.

In the past such an approach would not have seemed sensible, for it was normally assumed that programs small enough to make it work would only ever be able to do rather trivial computations. But what my discoveries have shown is that in fact even very small programs can be quite capable of doing all sorts of sophisticated computations.

As a first example—based on a rather simple computation—the picture at the top of the facing page shows a Turing machine set up to add 1 to any number. The input to the Turing machine is the base 2 digit sequence for the number. The head of the machine starts at the right-hand end of this sequence, and the machine runs until its head first goes further to the right—at which point the machine stops, with

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