Enter the maze


In each episode of Mission:Impossible, the M:I team have a seemingly impossible task to perform, which of course they duly do. They achieve these feats using not only Tom Cruise heroics and clever plans but also hi-tech gadgets that help make the impossible mundane. Is there nothing that hi-tech coupled with smart people can't overcome once we set our minds to it?

Mission Impossible

The massive progress being made as computer science rapidly changes the way we live makes is seems anything is possible. Computers can now fly a plane across the atlantic including taking off and landing with no human intervention. They can beat the best human at chess. They can store my whole music collection in my pocket. Computers can recognize faces, tell me which way to drive to get home ... When in the past people have said things to do with future technology would never happen they have tended to end up looking foolish. With a bit of ingenuity in the future they will solve any problem we want them to ... won't they?

Lots of problems, are 'uncomputable' - they can never be solved even by hyper-intelligent beings from the planet Vorg

It turns out though that some missions really are impossible for computers and even Tom Cruise wouldn't be able to make a difference even if he was given unlimited time. Not now, not ever...and just to hammer it home, this is a fact that was proven mathematically way back in the 1930s before any one had even created an actual working computer ...


Computer Science is not just about what computers can do, but also about what they can never do, which is where the bad news for the Mission: Impossible team comes in. Computer scientists have shown that lots of problems that must have solutions, are 'uncomputable' - they can never be solved using computing however powerful. Uncomputable problems are not only ones that computers can't solve, humans can never know the answers, nor can hyper-intelligent beings from the planet Vorg, not now, not ever...

What kinds of problems? You might hope that they would be ones that sound impossible from the outset, or obscure arcania, but it turns out threat even some innocuous problems will never be solved...and in some cases they go to the heart of what we would like computers to be able to do for us.

Mission: Impossible

So remember, if you ever join the Mission:Impossible Team, there are some missions that, once that tape has self-destructed, the only thing to do is just say "cop that for a lark" and go home.