In his book The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive, Brian Christian explained that “the first branch of computer science was what’s come to be known as computability theory, which doesn’t care how long a computation would take, only whether it’s possible or not. Take a millisecond or take a millennium, it’s all the same to computability theory.” However, as Christian also noted, “computer scientists refer to certain problems as intractable – meaning the correct answer can be computed, but not quickly enough to be of use.”

Intractability does have some practical applications for business-enabling technology. For example, “computer data encryption hinges on the fact that prime numbers can be multiplied into large composite numbers faster than composite numbers can be factored back into their primes. The two operations are perfectly computable, but the second happens to be exponentially slower – making it intractable. This is what makes online security, and online commerce, possible.”

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