Julia Robinson

American mathematician (1919–1985)

Julia Hall Bowman Robinson (December 8, 1919 – July 30, 1985) was an American mathematician and logician noted for her contributions to the fields of computability theory and computational complexity theory—most notably in decision problems. Her work on Hilbert's tenth problem (now known as Matiyasevich's theorem or the MRDP theorem) played a crucial role in its ultimate resolution. She was elected a member of the United States National of Academy of Science in 1975.

Julia Robinson in 1975


  • In this paper, we shall show the validity of an iterative procedure suggested by George W. Brown ... This method corresponds to each player choosing in turn the best pure strategy against the accumulated mixed strategy of his opponent up to then.
  • We say a mathematical theory is decidable if there is an effective method of determining the validity of each statement of the theory. If there is no such method, the theory is undecidable. It is clear that if there is a mechanical way of transforming each statement of an undecidable theory into an equivalent statement of another theory, the second theory is also undecidable. This principle, together with the fact that the arithmetic of natural numbers is undecidable, enables us to solve the decision problem for fields of finite degree over the rationals.
    • (1959). "The Undecidability of Algebraic Rings and Fields". Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society 10 (6): 950–957. ISSN 00029939. DOI:10.2307/2033628. (quote from p. 950)
  • And I continued to struggle with the Tenth Problem. In 1961 Martin Davis, Hilary Putnam, and I published a joint paper, "The undecidability of exponential diophantine equations," which used ideas from the papers Martin and I had presented at the International Congress along with various new results. The paper contains what is sometimes referred to as the Robinson hypothesis (or, as Martin calls it, "J.R.") to the effect that if there were some diophantine relation that grew faster than an exponential but not too terribly fast—less than some function could be expressed in exponentials—then we would be able to define exponentiation. It would follow from the definition that exponential diophantine equations would be equivalent to diophantine equations and that, therefore, the solution to Hilbert's tenth problem would be negative. At the time many people told Martin that this approach was misguided, to say the least. They were more polite to me.

Quotes about Julia Robinson

  • Notices: Can you tell me your memories of Julia Robinson, what she was like as a person?
    Davis: Very nice, very straightforward. Broad in her interests, mathematical and otherwise. And great power—there is no question in my mind that she was a much more powerful mathematician than I. We worked together on a problem on which we didn’t get anywhere. We were trying to prove the unsolvability of the decision problem for word equations. It turned out that we wouldn’t have been able to do that because the problem is solvable. Makanin solved it positively.
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