Computers are everywhere today—at work, in our cars, in our living rooms, and in our pockets—and have changed the world beyond our wildest imagination. Yet these marvellous devices are, at the core, amazingly simple and stupid: all they can do is to mechanically shuffle zeros and ones around. What is the true potential of such automated computational devices? And what are the limits of what can be done by mechanical calculations?
Complexity theory gives these deep and fascinating philosophical questions a crisp mathematical meaning. A computational problem is any task that is in principle amenable to being solved by a computer—i.e., it can be solved by mechanical application of mathematical steps. Complexity theory focuses on classifying computational problems according to their inherent difficulty, and on relating those classes of problems to each other. The goal is to understand the power of computers but also—and above all—the limitations of what problems can be solved by them, or more broadly by any type of automated computational process. A problem is regarded as inherently difficult if its solution requires unreasonably large resources regardless of which approach is used to solve it (i.e., no matter which algorithm is employed). Complexity theory formalizes this notion by introducing mathematical models of computation and quantifying the amount of resources needed to solve the problems, such as running time, memory usage, parallelism, communication, et cetera.
This course will give an introduction to computational complexity theory, survey some of the major research results, and present some of the open problems that are the focus of current research. While the intention is to give a fairly broad coverage, there will probably be a slight bias towards areas where the Theory Group at KTH has made significant contributions to the state of the art.