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MIA MINNES

Abstract. My research lies at the intersection of mathematical logic, theoretical computer sci-

ence, and several related fields including complexity theory and combinatorics on words. I have

three papers which have been accepted for publication, one which has been submitted, and others

in preparation. These papers study different aspects of automatic structures: mathematical objects

which can be represented by finite automata. I have ongoing research in this area and collabora-

tions with computable model theorists and number theorists. I am also directing an undergraduate

research project studying classes of trees described by finite automata.

1. Introduction

My focus has been on the representation of mathematical structures by automata. This sub-

ject has numerous interesting and difficult open problems and connects with many branches of

mathematics. Various theorems assert the existence of some mathematical object based on data

supplied in the hypotheses of the theorem. Sometimes there is an algorithm to construct the

object asserted to exist directly from the data of the problem. Whole branches of mathematics

and computer science are devoted to studying the existence and complexity of such algorithms

(recursive function theory [53]; polynomial-time complexity theory [56]; parameterized complexity

theory [16]). These areas inform and are motivated by investigations of the effective content of

theorems. Milestones in such investigations include van der Waerden’s work on effective fields

[55], Kleene and Church’s exploration of computation in the 1930s, and the resulting interactions

between algebraic structures, model theory, and computation seen in the work of Frölich and

Shepherdson [20], Malcev [40], Rabin [48], and the Ershov and Nerode schools.

To understand the effective aspects of mathematical theorems, we study representations of ob-

jects using specific models of computation. A structure (or model) is a general abstraction of any

mathematical object. Given a signature (R1m1 , . . . , Rtmt ), a structure with that signature is a set

(universe or domain) of basic elements along with relations RjA ⊂ Amj interpreting the symbols Rj

of the signature. We can impose effectiveness constraints by requiring the domain and each atomic

relation to be recognized or computed by a machine with specified complexity. Computable model

theory [21] uses Turing machines [54] as the underlying mode of computation. As part of their

feasible mathematics program, Nerode and Remmel [45] suggested the study of polynomial-time

structures, where the Turing machines recognizing the basic objects are required to do so in poly-

nomial time. An important early result by Cenzer and Remmel [9] showed that every computable

purely relational structure is computably isomorphic to a polynomial-time structure. This implies

that solving questions about the class of polynomial-time structures is as hard as solving them

for the class of computable structures. Since polynomial-time structures and computable struc-

tures yielded similar complexity results, greater restrictions on the complexity of computations

were imposed. In 1995, Khoussainov and Nerode suggested bringing in models of computations

that have less computational power than polynomial-time Turing machines. The hope was that

if these weaker machines were used to represent the domain and basic relations, then perhaps

isomorphism invariants could be more easily understood. Specifically, they suggested the use of

finite state machines (automata) as the basic computation model.

2 MIA MINNES

Most of my research contributions thus far have come from this perspective: studying math-

ematical objects described by finite automata. Finite automata were first introduced by S.C.

Kleene [36] in his explorations of McCulloch and Pitt’s neural nets. A finite automaton (over a

finite alphabet) is defined by a finite set of states, a designated initial state, a transition relation,

and a distinguished subset of accepting states. For a given input finite word, the automaton starts

at the initial state and then reads each letter of the input sequentially, transitioning to new states

as governed by a transition relation (essentially performing like a computer program). If, after

reading the entire input, the automaton is in an accepting state, it accepts the input word. Finite

automata can be viewed as restricted Turing machines in that there is only one-pass reading of the

input and there is a fixed finite amount of memory. The set of words accepted by the automaton

is called its language. A set of finite words is regular if it is the language of some finite automaton.

The class of regular languages forms a Boolean algebra (it is closed under union, intersection,

and complementation). An automatic structure is one whose domain and basic relations are each

recognizable by finite automata. Note that any structure whose domain is finite is automatic.

Conversely, any automatic structure must have at most a countable domain, because it must be

encodable as a set of finite strings over some finite alphabet.

In the computer science community, an interest in automatic structures comes from problems

related to model checking. Model checking is motivated by the quest to prove correctness of

computer programs, a highly topical endeavour given the ubiquity and complexity of software

controlling many aspects of modern life. The importance of this project is highlighted by the

awarding of the 2007 ACM Turing prize to Clarke, Emerson, and Sifakis for their work in this area.

Given an automaton representing the software program for a particular task and a specification

(formula) in a formal system, the model checking problem asks us to compute all the states of the

system that satisfy the specification. Since the state space may be infinite, a naı̈ve examination of

each state in turn may not terminate. Abstraction methods try to represent the behaviour of the

system in finite form. Model checking then reduces to checking a finite representation of the state

space to identify the states that satisfy the specification. Automatic structures arise naturally in

infinite state model checking since both the state space and the transitions of infinite state systems

are usually recognizable by finite automata.

The idea of using automata to study structures goes back to the work of Büchi. Recall that first-

order logic contains the Boolean connectives along with quantifiers over domain elements; monadic

second-order logic also allows quantification over subsets of the domain. The theory of a structure

with respect to some logic is the set of sentences in that logic which hold of the structure. Büchi

[6], [7] used automata to prove the decidability of the monadic second-order theory of the natural

numbers with one successor. Rabin [49] then used automata to prove his incredibly fruitful result

that the monadic second-order theory of the natural numbers with two successor functions (the

infinite binary tree) is also decidable. In the realm of logic, these results have been used to prove

decidability of first-order and monadic second-order theories. Büchi realized that automata and

Presburger arithmetic (the first-order theory of the natural numbers with addition) are closely

connected. He used automata to give a simple proof (not using quantifier elimination) of the

decidability of Presburger arithmetic. Capturing this notion, Hodgson [25] defined automaton

decidable theories in 1982. While he coined the definition of automatic structures, little was

done in the 1980s to follow up on his work. In 1995, Khoussainov and Nerode [31] rediscovered

the concept of automatic structures and initiated a systematic study of the area. In subsequent

RESEARCH STATEMENT 3

papers [5, 34], it was shown that the extended first-order logic theory of any automatic structure

(obtained by adding sentences with the ∃∞ and ∃n,m quantifiers) is decidable. Thus, to prove

the decidability of this theory for a particular structure, it is sufficient to code the domain of the

structure as a regular set of strings in such a way as all the atomic relations are finite automaton

recognizable. Similar results can be proved for structures which can be represented by automata

whose inputs are infinite strings.

The p-adic numbers are defined as completions of the rational numbers with respect to the p-adic

norms. They were introduced by Hensel in 1897 [23, 24]. The first-order theory of these numbers

with the valuation groups as a distinguished subsets was studied by [3, 2, 18, 11, 57, 58, 17] using

quantifier elimination. In my thesis, I proved the decidability of the first-order theory of Qp with

addition and the distinguished ring of integers using automata techniques.

Theorem 1 (Minnes; 2008, PhD). The first-order theory of (Qp ; Zp , +, 0, 1) is decidable.

PThe elements

n

of the ring of formal power series over the field K, K[[x]], are the formal sums

a

n≥0 n x , where addition is defined term-by-term and multiplication is analogous to polynomial

multiplication. The field of formal Laurent series, K((x)), contains formal sums with finitely many

non-zero terms with negative powers of x. In my PhD thesis, I also proved the following theorem

using a representation of formal Laurent series by automata [41].

Theorem 2 (Minnes; 2008, PhD). If p is prime and d is a natural number, the first-order theory

of the structure (Fpd ((x)); Fpd [[x]], +, 0) is decidable.

This result is exciting in the context of Hilbert’s tenth problem: is there an algorithm which

decides whether any given multivariable polynomial with integer coefficients has a solution in the

integers. Davis, Putnam, Robinson, and Matiyasevich’s collaboration led to a negative result [13].

Poonen’s recent AMS Notices article [47] articulates the current state of the art in the study of

Hilbert’s tenth problem over other rings. In particular, it is still unknown whether a decision

procedure exists for the ring of formal Laurent series over a finite field. My work above may give

a new approach to this problem, though a significant hurdle remains in representing the full ring

structure of formal Laurent series. I have been collaborating with Poonen in this direction.

Considerable work has been invested in classifying algebraically the automatic members of vari-

ous classes. Historically, these results have come in pairs: first proving that structures which satisfy

certain properties are automatic (the easier direction), and then showing that no other member of

the class can be automatic (harder). The first result of this sort was that the automatic well-orders

are exactly those with order-type less than ω ω (sufficiency given by Khoussainov and Nerode in

[31] and necessity by Delhommé in [14]). Khoussainov, Nies, Rubin and Stephan characterized

the isomorphism types of automatic Boolean algebras [32]. There are partial characterizations of

automatic linear orders, well-founded partial orders, infinite groups and trees in terms of model

theoretic concepts such as Cantor-Bendixson ranks (Khoussainov, Rubin and Stephan [35]; Khous-

sainov and Minnes [30]; and Nies and Thomas [46]). Some of these results have direct algorithmic

implications. For example, the isomorphism problems for automatic well-ordered sets and Boolean

algebras were shown to be decidable using the respective classifications [32]. A large class of auto-

matic structures which has a very good classification is that of unary automatic structures, those

whose domain can be encoded as finite strings over the alphabet {1}. This is a strict subclass of

the automatic structures: for example, the order type of the rational numbers is representable as

4 MIA MINNES

an automatic structure over the alphabet {0, 1} but not as a unary automatic structure [33, 4].

The structure of a unary automaton can be described in terms of modular relations and has led to

a classification of all unary automatic graphs as eventually periodic chains of finite graphs [33, 4].

In recent work with Liu [38], we have used this classification to give polynomial-time algorithms

for the isomorphism problem of various classes of unary automatic structures. Moreover, we have

shown that, relative to natural isomorphism invariants, there are very concise (polynomial-space)

automata representing any such structure.

Theorem 3 (Liu, Minnes 2009). The isomorphism problem for unary automatic linear orders,

equivalence structures, and trees can be decided in polynomial-time (with respect to the size of

the automaton). In particular, this implies that the state complexity of these classes is low. The

isomorphism problem for unary automatic graphs of finite degree is solved in elementary time.

Because of ubiquitous applications of graphs and their intrinsic interest in mathematics and

computer science, Khoussainov, Liu, and I [29] studied the complexity of natural graph questions

on unary automatic graphs of finite degree. We introduced the concept of the edge path of a finite

directed path, which interfaces well with the periodic characterization of unary automatic graphs.

Theorem (Khoussainov, Liu, Minnes 2007). For a unary automatic graph of finite degree, there

are polynomial-time algorithms which decide each of the following questions: is the graph infinite?

does the graph have an infinite component? is the graph connected? given two elements of the

graph, is there a path between them?

The results about automatic structures can be seen to pull in two opposite directions. One

body of work demonstrates that automatic structures are simple from a logical and computational

point of view. However, many recent results have demonstrated richness in the class of automatic

structures. In particular, there is a strong sense in which computable structures can be encoded

into automatic structures using their Turing machine presentations. In [30], we proved that each

computable structure A can be embedded into an automatic structure B in such a way that A is

Lω1 ,ω -definable in B, and the embedding preserves the isomorphism type A.

Since every automaton is a (restricted) Turing machine, any structure that can be represented

by automata can also be represented by Turing machines. Hence, they are computable structures.

Within the context of computable model theory, sharp bounds on the complexity of computable

structures have been established. These bounds are given as ordinal values of various complexity

measures. Not surprisingly, most of these bounds occur at the boundary between the computable

ordinals and the non-computable ordinals. The question now becomes: does passing to the smaller

subclass of automatic structures lead to lower complexity (as measured by the various complexity

metrics)? In [30], we answered this question for three complexity measures: ordinal height of

well-founded binary relations, Cantor-Bendixson ranks of trees, and Scott ranks. A well-founded

binary relation is one where each subset has a minimal element. The ordinal height is defined

inductively on elements of a well-founded relation in such a way that the height of any ordinal

is itself. The first non-computable ordinal, ω1CK , is thus a sharp bound on the ordinal heights of

computable well-founded relations. Vardi asked whether the bound remains tight when we restrict

to automatic structures. The following theorem answers this question.

Theorem 4 (Khoussainov, Minnes 2007). For each computable ordinal α, there is an automatic

well-founded relation A such that α ≤ r(A) ≤ ω + α.

RESEARCH STATEMENT 5

Corollary. Ordinal heights of automatic well-founded relations are unbounded below ω1CK .

As a key tool in proving his famous isomorphism theorem for countable structures, Scott defined

an infinitary sentence which describes the isomorphism type of each structure [52]. The Scott rank

of a structure is essentially the quantifier rank of this sentence and describes the complexity of

its automorphism orbits. Over the past forty years, there has been interest in the Scott ranks of

computable structures. Nadel [44] showed that the bound on Scott rank for computable structures

is ω1CK +1. Harrison’s work [22] gave the first example of a computable structure with the maximal

Scott rank. More recently, Cholak, Downey, and Harrington [10] gave a natural example of a

(hyperarithmetical) structure with Scott rank ω1CK + 1. It took considerable effort (Makkai [39];

Knight and J. Millar [37]; Calvert, Goncharov, Knight [8]) to show that there are computable

structures whose Scott rank is the limit ordinal ω1CK . The following theorem transfers any result

about Scott ranks of computable structures to the setting of automatic structures.

Theorem (Khoussainov, Minnes 2007). For each computable structure, there is an automatic

structure with the same Scott rank.

Corollary. There are automatic structures with Scott ranks any computable ordinal, ω1CK , ω1CK +1.

We also measure the complexity of trees. Trees may be thought of as partial orders with

minimal elements, and which satisfy the property that the set of predecessors of any element is

linearly ordered. We consider successor trees: instead of having access to the full partial order,

only the immediate successor relation is given. (Note that, computability considerations aside,

successor trees form the same class as partial order trees.) The Cantor-Bendixson rank quantifies

the branching of the tree via isolated paths (this is related to the notion of a Cantor-Bendixson

derivative in topology, see [28]). As before, ω1CK is the sharp bound on Cantor-Bendixson ranks

of computable trees. Restricting to automatic successor trees does not decrease this bound.

Theorem (Khoussainov, Minnes 2007). For each computable ordinal α, there is an automatic

successor tree whose Cantor-Bendixson rank is α.

The three theorems above involve fundamentally different measure of complexity. However,

their proofs are similar: to transfer a result about computable structures to one about automatic

structures, we consider the Turing machine presentations of the computable structures. Associated

with each Turing machine is its configuration graph, which captures the transition relation between

states of the machine. This configuration graph is an automatic structure. Thus, proving the

theorems above involves connecting configuration graphs of Turing machines in such a way as to

preserve automaticity of the resulting structure, while maintaining high complexity. However, this

is challenging because the complexity of any configuration graph by itself is very low.

5. Ongoing Projects

5.1. Classifications and embeddings of automatic structures. It is not hard to see that

any infinite linear order contains either an infinite increasing sequence or an infinite decreasing

sequence. The computable version of this theorem fails [51]: there is a computable linear order

with no computable suborder isomorphic to ω and no computable suborder isomorphic to ω ∗ . I

have recently proved the automatic analogue of the classical result [42].

Theorem 5 (Minnes; 2008). There is a computable procedure that, given an automatic infinite

linear order L, produces (an index for) a regular subset of order type ω or order type ω ∗ .

6 MIA MINNES

Blumensath and Grädel showed that every structure first-order interpretable in an automatic

structure has an automatic presentation [5]. Therefore, the sum of any two automatic linear orders

is itself automatic. The converse of this would generalize Theorem 5 for arbitrary summands of an

automatic linear order. This line of work parallels investigations of linear orders in the computable

setting (see [15] for a survey or [12] for investigations into initial segment complexity).

Project 1. Given an automatic linear order L which can be expressed as L1 +L2 , what conditions

guarantee that either L1 or L2 has an automatic presentation?

Recently, Kach and Miller [27] and Kach and Levin [26] further explored the question of em-

beddings in the context of computable structures. In my ongoing collaboration with Kach, we are

studying the behaviour of automatic structures under embeddings.

Project 2. Let C be the class of automatic permutation structures, automatic equivalence struc-

tures, or automatic trees. Is it true that for any A1 , A2 ∈ C, if A1 embeds classically into A2 there

is an automatic copy of A1 in A2 ? Can this copy be found computably? uniformly computably?

5.2. Parameterized complexity. A relatively recent and very exciting application of automata

theory is in the area of paramterized complexity. This field was initiated by Downey and Fellows

[16]. Their insight was that many instances of NP-complete problems which arise in practice (for

example, travelling salesman or satisifability) are actually feasible. Therefore, they suggest that

the intractability can be traced back to some feature of the input, described by some parameter

which, when sufficiently small, makes the problem tractable. Some of the deepest theorems in this

field connect Robertson and Seymour’s celebrated Graph Minors Theorem [50] with automata

theory to formulate (fixed-parameter) tractable algorithms [19].

Project 3. It has already been observed that different choices of parameter lead to different

tractability results. What is the theory of multi-parameter complexity? In particular, is there a

notion of joint complexity distribution? This is an ongoing joint project with Nerode.

5.3. Output automata, trees, and real numbers. So far, we have treated automata as recog-

nition or acceptance machines. However, there are similar computation models (finite state trans-

ducers, deterministic finite automata with output) which are functional; that is, they convert input

strings to output strings. The class of functions represented by such machines is different from

the class of functions whose graphs are automaton recognizable. Mohri’s group at AT&T Labs

has already applied finite-state transducers with great effect to the problem of natural language

processing [43].

Project 4. In order to connect automaton representations with actual numerical problems, we

need to work over the real numbers. What is the correct definition of an automaton computable

real-valued function? Which closure properties apply the class of such function? This is an ongoing

joint project with Khoussainov and Cenzer.

Allouche and Shallit [1] use deterministic finite automata with output to study combinatorics

on infinite words. Words represented in this way have been connected to morphic words and to

algebraicity of real numbers.

Project 5. The current automata-theoretic definition used by the combinatorialists is highly

base-dependent. Is there a way to elucidate this using trees and automata on trees as the basic

structures? This is one of the goals of the undergraduate research project I am supervising.

RESEARCH STATEMENT 7

References

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RESEARCH STATEMENT 9

[56] J. van Leeuwen, editor. Handbook of Theoretical Computer Science, volume A: Algorithms and Complexity.

MIT Press/ Elsevier, 1990.

[57] V. Weispfenning. On the elementary theory of Hensel fields. Annals of Mathematical Logic, 10(1):59–93, 1976.

[58] V. Weispfenning. Quantifier elimination and decision procedures for valued fields. In G.H. Muller and M.M.

Richter, editors, Models and Sets: Proceedings of Logic Colloquium ’83, volume 1103 of Lecture Notes in

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E-mail address: minnes@math.mit.edu

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