The Semialgebraic Orbit Problem

Authors Shaull Almagor, Joël Ouaknine, James Worrell

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Author Details

Shaull Almagor
  • Department of Computer Science, Oxford University, UK
Joël Ouaknine
  • Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, Germany \and Department of Computer Science, Oxford University, UK
James Worrell
  • Department of Computer Science, Oxford University, UK

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Shaull Almagor, Joël Ouaknine, and James Worrell. The Semialgebraic Orbit Problem. In 36th International Symposium on Theoretical Aspects of Computer Science (STACS 2019). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 126, pp. 6:1-6:15, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2019)


The Semialgebraic Orbit Problem is a fundamental reachability question that arises in the analysis of discrete-time linear dynamical systems such as automata, Markov chains, recurrence sequences, and linear while loops. An instance of the problem comprises a dimension d in N, a square matrix A in Q^{d x d}, and semialgebraic source and target sets S,T subseteq R^d. The question is whether there exists x in S and n in N such that A^nx in T. The main result of this paper is that the Semialgebraic Orbit Problem is decidable for dimension d <= 3. Our decision procedure relies on separation bounds for algebraic numbers as well as a classical result of transcendental number theory - Baker’s theorem on linear forms in logarithms of algebraic numbers. We moreover argue that our main result represents a natural limit to what can be decided (with respect to reachability) about the orbit of a single matrix. On the one hand, semialgebraic sets are arguably the largest general class of subsets of R^d for which membership is decidable. On the other hand, previous work has shown that in dimension d=4, giving a decision procedure for the special case of the Orbit Problem with singleton source set S and polytope target set T would entail major breakthroughs in Diophantine approximation.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Computing methodologies → Algebraic algorithms
  • Theory of computation → Logic and verification
  • linear dynamical systems
  • Orbit Problem
  • first order theory of the reals


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