Let $n$ be a positive integer. Is it true that for all $1\leq i \leq n$ there exists a length $n$ binary string $w$ such that $K(w) = i$. Where $K(w)$ is the Kolmogorov complexity of $w$.

For each $i$ there are clearly $2^i$ programs of that length. But can we be sure at least one of them (when executed) generate a length $n$ binary string?


1 Answer 1


The answer depends on the exact choice of program description language. We can define Kolmogorov complexity with respect to any admissible program description language. A program description language $L$ is admissible if for all program description languages $L'$, we have $K_L(x) \leq K_{L'}(x) + C_{L'}$, for some constant $C_{L'}$ depending only on $L'$.

We start by showing how to construct an admissible program description language in which all Kolmogorov complexities are even. Let $L$ be an admissible program description language. We define a new program description language $L'$ as follows: if $|x|$ is odd or $x = \epsilon$ then $L'(x) = \epsilon$; if $|x|$ is even and $x=0y$ then $L'(x) = L(y)$; and if $|x|$ is even and $x=1y$ then $L'(x) = L(z)$, where $z$ is obtained from $y$ by removing the last symbol. Since $K_{L'}(x) \leq K_L(x) + 2$, $L'$ is admissible. On the other hand, it is easy to check that $K_{L'}$ is always even.

Conversely, we can also arrange that all Kolmogorov complexities would be achieved. Let $L$ be an admissible program description language. We construct a new admissible program description language $L'$ as follows: $L'(\epsilon) = z$, where $z$ is some string satisfying $K_L(z) < |z|$ (we can choose $z = 0^{2^n}$ for large enough $n$); $L'(0x) = x$; and $L'(1x) = L(x)$. Then $K_{L'}(z) = 0$, and for $w \neq z$, we have $K_{L'}(w) = \min(|w|,K_L(w)) + 1$. For every $n \geq 1$, we can find a string $w$ of length $n-1$ such that $K_L(w) \geq n-1$. This string satisfies $K_{L'}(w) = n$.

  • $\begingroup$ So for each Kolmogorov complexity value you want to achieve, you need to build a new program interpreter that achieves it for some binary string of length $n$. $\endgroup$
    – JtailHyper
    Apr 17, 2019 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Not quite. You're looking for a single program interpreter with a certain range of Kolmogorov complexities. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2019 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ In your example, you say that we can find a length $n-1$ string $w$ such that $K_{L'}(w) = n$. I understand this, you're simply using the fact that there is at least one incompressible string for each $n$, and the rest follows from your definition of $L'$. But I don't quite see how your construction of $L'$ hits every Kolmogorov complexity between $1$ and $n$ for some length $n$ binary string. Could you explain this a little more? Sorry if my question seems dumb, I have almost no intuition for Kolmogorov complexity. $\endgroup$
    – JtailHyper
    Apr 17, 2019 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ The definition of $L'$ doesn't depend on $n$. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2019 at 22:35

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