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The complexity of analog computation. (English) Zbl 0594.68040
Summary: We ask if analog computers can solve NP-complete problems efficiently. Regarding this as unlikely, we formulate a strong version of Church’s thesis: that any analog computer can be simulated efficienty (in polynomial time) by a digital computer. From this assumption and the assumption that \(P\neq NP\) we can draw conclusions about the operation of physical devices used for computation.
An NP-complete problem, 3-SAT, is reduced to the problem of checking whether a feasible point is a local optimum of an optimization problem. A mechanical device is proposed for the solution of this problem. It encodes variables as shaft angles and uses gears and smooth cams. If we grant strong Church’s thesis, that \(P\neq NP\), and a certain ”downhill principle” governing the physical behavior of the machine, we conclude that it cannot operate successfully while using only polynomial resources. We next prove strong Church’s thesis for a class of analog computers described by well-behaved ordinary differential equations, which we can take as representing part of classical mechanics. We conclude with a comment on the recently discovered connection between spin glasses and combinatorial optimization.

68Q25 Analysis of algorithms and problem complexity
68N99 Theory of software
68U20 Simulation (MSC2010)
68Q05 Models of computation (Turing machines, etc.) (MSC2010)
Full Text: DOI
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