Consider the following generalisation of the mortality problem for Turing Machines.

Given a Turing Machine $M$. Is there a bound $k_M$ such that starting from any configuration $c$ machine $M$ stops after at most $k_M$ steps?

Is the presented problem (un)decidable? Can you provide any references?

We stress that "configuration" here means any possible configuration, not only the initial one.

  • $\begingroup$ Do configurations have to be finite, or do you allow an arbitrary infinite string on the tape? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ You can assume that configurations are finite (by putting end-of-world marker or sth like this). However, the length of them can be unbounded. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


The mortality problem is undecidable (P.K. Hooper, Th eUndecidability of the Turing Machine Immortality Problem (1966))

The uniform mortality problem undecidability follows from the following:

Theorem: A Turing machine is mortal if and only if it is uniformly mortal

I found the proof in: Gerd G. Hillebrand, Paris C. Kanellakis, Harry G. Mairson, Moshe Y. Vardi: Undecidable Boundedness Problems for Datalog Programs. J. Log. Program. 25(2): 163-190 (1995)

Proof: Let $\delta_1,...,\delta_n$ be the possible transitions of $M$. We call a sequence $\delta_{i_1},..,\delta_{i_k}$ of transitions consistent if it reflects a computation of $M$, i.e., if there exists a configuration $c = (l,s,r,q)$ ($l$ left tape, $s$ symbol under head, $r$ right tape, $q$ current state) from which $M$ will execute that sequence.

Now arrange all consistent transition sequences in a (possibly infinite) tree, with the empty sequence at the root and each node extending the sequence at its parent by one transition. This tree is of bounded degree. Also (1) $M$ is mortal iff there is non infinite path in the tree, and (2) $M$ is uniformly mortal iff there are no arbitrarily long paths in the tree. By Konig's Lemma (in a tree of bounded degree there is an infinite path if and only if there is a family of paths of unbounded length), these two conditions are equivalent.

  • $\begingroup$ Why should (1) be true? The finite prefixes of the infinite path are in general witnessed by unrelated configurations. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, here is a simple counter example: let $M$ move to the right until it finds the empty tape symbol, and then it halts. Then $M$ halts from every configuration, but not in bounded time. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilJeřábek: $M$ is not mortal (according to the standard definition): consider a configuration in which al tape symbols are $1$. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ I assumed the question was about finite configurations. But anyway, the proof still does not make sense. How do you establish (1)? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilJeřábek: nodes are labeled with sequence of transitions of the $M$ (not sequences of configurations), and each sequence of each node can be "extended" form the parent using a consistent pair of "underlying" configurations $c_{parent}, c_{child}$. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 7:12

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