Is TMD-2 a Universal Turing Machine?

A project log for TMD-2: Turing Machine Demonstrator Mark 2

Build a Turing machine based on TMD-1 but with support for more states and symbols.

michael-gardiMichael Gardi 11/21/2020 at 21:150 Comments

Short answer, yes. Turing machines with state-symbol pairs of (4,6), (5, 5), and (6, 4), have all been proven to be "universal". So TMD-2, with 6-states and 6-symbols, certainly qualifies. But what does this mean?

Simply put a universal Turing machine (UTM) is one that can simulate any arbitrary Turing machine on arbitrary input. It achieves this by reading both the description of the machine to be simulated, as well as the input to that machine from its own tape.  Another way to put this: the first part of the tape contains an arbitrary Turing machine's state transition table (program) that has been encoded to the tape's input alphabet, and the rest of the tape holds the input to be operated on. The state table of the UTM itself "executes" this program on the tape by shuttling the tape head back and forth between the state table area and the input area, all the while following the rules that have been established for Turing machines like only reading and writing from the head position, and only moving one cell at at time to the left or right. 

Since there is no "memory" in a Turing machine (except for the current state register), the process of executing a program on the tape requires that the tape itself be used to remember the current state of the program being executed and the current head position within the input area (at a minimum). This can be accomplished by having two symbols for each tape input, like 1 and say x for a 1 that is also the current position of the tape head, or as in Turing's own example leaving empty spaces on the tape for such markings.

Here are a few links that really helped me understand UTMs. They all come from a post by Mark L Lyons where talks about the book Formal Languages and Their Relation to Automata by Hopcroft and Ullman.  

Frankly it hurts my head trying to think about writing a UTM program, especially with only 6-states and 6-symbols to work with, but I accept that it can be done because other people way smarter than me say it is so.