Figure – Attractor basins (fig.2 pp.6 on Mária Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltán Toroczkai, “Optimization hardness as transient chaos in an analog approach to constraint satisfaction“, Nature Physics, vol. 7, p. 966-970, 2011.)

Mária Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltán Toroczkai have proposed a way of mapping satisfiability problems to differential equations and a deterministic algorithm that solves them in polynomial continuous time at the expense of exponential energy functions (so the discrete approximation of the algorithm does not run in polynomial time, and an analogue system would need exponential resources).

The map assigns a phase space to a problem; the algorithm chooses random initial conditions from within that phase space.  In the graphs above and below, they pick a 2-d subspace of the phase space and for each initial point in that space they illustrate 1) the particular solution the algorithm finds, 2) the corresponding “solution cluster”, an equivalence class of solutions that identifies two solutions if they differ in exactly one variable assignment, and 3) the time it takes to solve the problem.  Each row adds another clause to satisfy.

The especially interesting part of the paper is the notion of an escape rate,  the proportion of the trajectories still searching for a solution after a time t.  In a companion paper, they show that the escape rate for Sudoku combinatorial instances (The Chaos Within Sudoku, Nature, August 2012)  correlates strongly with human judgements of hardness. This escape rate is similar to the Kolmogorov complexity in that it gives a notion of hardness to individual problem instances rather than to classes of problems. Full paper could be retrieved from arXiv: Mária Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltán Toroczkai, “Optimization hardness as transient chaos in an analog approach to constraint satisfaction“, Nature Physics, vol. 7, p. 966-970, 2011. (at arXiv on August 2012).

Figure – Attractor basins for 3-XORSAT (fig.8 pp.18 on Mária Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltán Toroczkai, “Optimization hardness as transient chaos in an analog approach to constraint satisfaction“, Nature Physics, vol. 7, p. 966-970, 2011.)