Does there exist an equivalent arithmetic circuit for each computable function?

I've been trying to wrap my head around the statement above, but haven't found a counter example although I believe the statement to be false.

What has made me curious is that I've read some theorems stating that a protocol (cryptograhy protocol theory) can compute any computable function, but then requires that the function should be specified as an arithmetic circuit.

  • $\begingroup$ Arithmetic circuits can only compute multinomials $\endgroup$
    – Ariel
    May 1, 2017 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Ariel - Can you describe to a programmer studying a little cryptography as a hobby what a multinomial is? :-) $\endgroup$
    – Shuzheng
    May 1, 2017 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ Arithmetic circuits compute functions on finitely many inputs. They can compute all polynomials. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2017 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


Arithmetic circuits compute a polynomial in their input. An arithmetic circuit over some field $\mathbb{F}$ with $n$ variables and total degree $d$ can compute functions $f:\mathbb{F}^n\rightarrow\mathbb{F}$ of the form:

$$f(x_1,...,x_n)=\sum\limits_{i_1+...+i_n\le d}\alpha _{i_1,...,i_n}\cdot x_1^{i_1}x_2^{i_2}...x_n^{i_n}$$

where $\alpha _{i_1,...,i_n}\in\mathbb{F}$ are the coefficients of the multivariate polynomial.

There are many computable functions that cannot be expressed as a polynomial, e.g. take $f:\mathbb{Q}\rightarrow\mathbb{Q}$ which is $1$ at $x=0$ and zero everywhere else. Since $f$ is non constant with an infinite number of zeros, it cannot be written as a univariate polynomial.

  • $\begingroup$ What is total degree d ? $\endgroup$
    – Shuzheng
    May 1, 2017 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ The maximum sum of powers $i_1+...+i_n$ such that the monomial $x_1^{i_1}...x_n^{i_n}$ appears with nonzero coefficient in the function computed by the circuit. Note that this already assumes any arithmetic circuit computs some polynomial, but you can show this easily by induction. $\endgroup$
    – Ariel
    May 1, 2017 at 16:31

Any computable boolean function with a fixed-length input can be computed by an arithmetic circuit. Consider any boolean function $f:\{0,1\}^n \to \{0,1\}$. Then there exists a multivariate polynomial $p(x_1,\dots,x_n)$ such that $f(x_1,\dots,x_n) = p(x_1,\dots,x_n)$ for all $x_1,\dots,x_n$, where arithmetic is done modulo two (i.e., over the field $\mathbb{F}_2=\{0,1\}$). Now every multivariate polynomial can be computed by a an arithmetic circuit, so $f$ can be computed by an arithmetic circuit.

In some sense the restrictions to fixed-length inputs is unavoidable, as any circuit inherently has a fixed number of inputs and a fixed number of outputs. So once you decide to focus on boolean functions, then the statement you saw in the crypto literature is justified: any boolean function that can be computed by a circuit, can be computed by an arithmetic circuit. And, any computable boolean function can be computed by arithmetic circuits, where we understand "computed" to mean that there is a family of arithmetic circuits, one per input length (the non-uniform model; this is unavoidable if you want to compute using circuits, as any one circuit can only have a fixed input length).


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