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In this paper, we give a step by step introduction to the theory of well quasi-ordered transition systems. The framework combines two concepts, namely (i) transition systems which are monotonic wrt. a well-quasi ordering; and (ii) a scheme for symbolic backward reachability analysis. We describe several models with infinite-state spaces, which can be analyzed within the framework, e.g., Petri nets, lossy channel systems, timed automata, timed Petri nets, and multiset rewriting systems. We will also present better quasi-ordered transition systems which allow the design of efficient symbolic representations of infinite sets of states.
Around 1989, a striking letter written in March 1956 from Kurt Gödel to John von Neumann came to light. It poses some problems about the complexity of algorithms; in particular, it asks a question that can be seen as the first formulation of the P=?NP question. This paper discusses some of the background to this letter, including von Neumann's own ideas on complexity theory. Von Neumann had already raised explicit questions about the complexity of Tarski's decision procedure for elementary algebra and geometry in a letter of 1949 to J. C. C. McKinsey. The paper concludes with a discussion of why theoretical computer science did not emerge as a separate discipline until the 1960s.