Decision problem
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In computability theory and computational complexity theory, a decision problem is a question in some formal system with a yes-or-no answer, depending on the values of some input parameters. For example, the problem "given two numbers x and y, does x evenly divide y?" is a decision problem. The answer can be either 'yes' or 'no', and depends upon the values of x and y.
Decision problems typically appear in mathematical questions of decidability, that is, the question of the existence of an effective method to determine the existence of some object or its membership in a set; many of the important problems in mathematics are undecidable.
Decision problems are closely related to function problems, which can have answers that are more complex than a simple 'yes' or 'no'. A corresponding function problem is "given two numbers x and y, what is x divided by y?". They are also related to optimization problems, which are concerned with finding the best answer to a particular problem.
A method for solving a decision problem given in the form of an algorithm is called a decision procedure for that problem. A decision procedure for the decision problem "given two numbers x and y, does x evenly divide y?" would give the steps for determining whether x evenly divides y, given x and y. One such algorithm is long division, taught to many school children. If the remainder is zero the answer produced is 'yes', otherwise it is 'no'. A decision problem which can be solved by an algorithm, such as this example, is called decidable.
The field of computational complexity categorizes decidable decision problems by how difficult they are to solve. "Difficult", in this sense, is described in terms of the computational resources needed by the most efficient algorithm for a certain problem. The field of recursion theory, meanwhile, categorizes undecidable decision problems by Turing degree, which is a measure of the noncomputability inherent in any solution.
Research in computability theory has typically focused on decision problems. As explained in the section Equivalence with function problems below, there is no loss of generality.
See also
- ALL (complexity)
- Computational problem
- Decidability (logic) – for the problem of deciding whether a formula is a consequence of a logical theory.
- yes-no question
- Optimization problem
- Search problem
- Counting problem (complexity)
- Function problem
- Word problem (mathematics)