On Robustness for the Skolem and Positivity Problems

Authors S. Akshay , Hugo Bazille, Blaise Genest, Mihir Vahanwala

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S. Akshay
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India
Hugo Bazille
  • Laboratoire de Recherche et Développement de l'Epita (LRDE), Rennes, France
Blaise Genest
  • Univ Rennes, CNRS, IRISA, France
Mihir Vahanwala
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India

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S. Akshay, Hugo Bazille, Blaise Genest, and Mihir Vahanwala. On Robustness for the Skolem and Positivity Problems. In 39th International Symposium on Theoretical Aspects of Computer Science (STACS 2022). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 219, pp. 5:1-5:20, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2022)


The Skolem problem is a long-standing open problem in linear dynamical systems: can a linear recurrence sequence (LRS) ever reach 0 from a given initial configuration? Similarly, the positivity problem asks whether the LRS stays positive from an initial configuration. Deciding Skolem (or positivity) has been open for half a century: The best known decidability results are for LRS with special properties (e.g., low order recurrences). On the other hand, these problems are much easier for "uninitialized" variants, where the initial configuration is not fixed but can vary arbitrarily: checking if there is an initial configuration from which the LRS stays positive can be decided by polynomial time algorithms (Tiwari in 2004, Braverman in 2006). In this paper, we consider problems that lie between the initialized and uninitialized variant. More precisely, we ask if 0 (resp. negative numbers) can be avoided from every initial configuration in a neighborhood of a given initial configuration. This can be considered as a robust variant of the Skolem (resp. positivity) problem. We show that these problems lie at the frontier of decidability: if the neighborhood is given as part of the input, then robust Skolem and robust positivity are Diophantine-hard, i.e., solving either would entail major breakthrough in Diophantine approximations, as happens for (non-robust) positivity. Interestingly, this is the first Diophantine-hardness result on a variant of the Skolem problem, to the best of our knowledge. On the other hand, if one asks whether such a neighborhood exists, then the problems turn out to be decidable in their full generality, with PSPACE complexity. Our analysis is based on the set of initial configurations such that positivity holds, which leads to new insights into these difficult problems, and interesting geometrical interpretations.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Logic and verification
  • Skolem problem
  • verification
  • dynamical systems
  • robustness


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