# Finding the smallest integer such that a given condition holds with “binary search”

Setup. Suppose we are given a function $$f:\mathbb N\to\{\text{False},\text{True}\}$$ such that $$f(n)=\text{True}\implies f(n+1)=\text{True}$$ and such that $$f(n)=\text{True}$$ for some $$n$$ large enough.

In natural language. The function $$f$$ imposes a condition on the natural numbers which is fulfilled once $$n$$ is large enough.

My question 1. How can I, for any given $$f$$, find the smallest $$n$$ such that $$f(n)=\text{True}$$?

A first idea would be to start with $$n=1$$ and to increment $$n$$ by one until $$f(n)$$ is True. However, this is fairly slow. The next step is a "binary search" algorithm (see below).

My question 2. How can I implement a good algorithm in Mathematica?

Here is an example of the first algorithm that I thought of, implemented in Python:

def bin_search(cond):
n = 1
while not cond(n):
n *= 2
lower_bound = n//2
upper_bound = n
middle = (lower_bound + upper_bound)//2
while upper_bound - lower_bound > 1:
if cond(middle):
upper_bound = middle
else:
lower_bound = middle
middle = (lower_bound + upper_bound)//2
return upper_bound


For example, one such condition would be $$f(n)=[H_n\geq 10],$$

where $$H_n=\sum_{i=1}^n \frac 1i$$ is the $$n$$th harmonic number.

EDIT: A remark about the harmonic numbers: In fact I wanted to compare the runtime of a good brute force method against an intelligent method for this problem. For solving $$H_n\geq 10$$, it suffices to find the smallest integer $$n$$ such that $$\ln(n)+\gamma\geq 10,$$ where $$\gamma$$ denotes the Euler-Mascheroni constant. So we can find $$n=[ \exp(10-\gamma)],$$ where $$[\cdot]$$ denotes the nearest integer function.

• 1. You are asking two different questions: (Q1) an algorithm derivation one, and (Q2) a code translation one. Which one do you want? 2. If Q1, then there is no need for ugly Python code... :) – Anton Antonov Dec 3 '19 at 13:26
• @AntonAntonov Since I am looking at general $f$, my question is: What is a good implementation in Mathematica of a good algorithm which is able to find the smallest $n$ such that ...? I don't want to use any specific properties of $f$ except the two mentioned above... My Python code was just an example of the simplest algorithm I could come up with, namely, a sort of binary search in order to find the minimal $n$ – Maximilian Janisch Dec 3 '19 at 13:32
• @AntonAntonov By the way, what is wrong with the Python implementation? 😯 – Maximilian Janisch Dec 3 '19 at 18:59
• You are aware, of course, that the problem has no solution in general, right? One can always construct a sequence growing slower than the $2^n$ built in the algorithm. – yarchik Dec 3 '19 at 19:15
• @yarchik Actually, based on your Input, I will consider asking a part of this question on the StackExchange for theoretical Computer Science. That might reduce the confusion – Maximilian Janisch Dec 3 '19 at 19:34

Here is one implementation of your algorithm:

firstTrue[f_] := next[f, 1, Infinity]

next[f_, last_, cur_] := If[last + 1 == cur,
If[f[last], last, cur],
If[f[last], next[f, dec[last], last], next[f, inc[last], cur]]
]

inc[n_] := With[{e = IntegerExponent[n, 2]},
If[n == 2^e, 2^(e+1), n + 2^(e-1)]
]

dec[n_] := With[{e = IntegerExponent[n, 2]},
If[n == 2^e, 2^(e-1) + 2^(e-2), n - 2^(e-1)]
]


firstTrue[HarmonicNumber[#] >= 10&]


12367

Of course, for analytic functions like HarmonicNumber there are much better algorithms to do this.

• Thank you! About HarmonicNumber: I will add some motivation; of course you are right – Maximilian Janisch Dec 3 '19 at 18:20
• Ok I have added some motivation to the Harmonic Number problem. In my opinion it is a very nice solution using Euler-Mascheroni – Maximilian Janisch Dec 3 '19 at 18:23

Of course, for analytic functions like HarmonicNumber there are much better algorithms to do this.

Here is some code related to that statement -- it uses one of the universal WL functions:

Clear[H];
H[n_] := Sum[1/i, {i, n}];

FindArgMin[{H[n], H[n] >= 10, n > 0}, n]
(* {12366.5} *)

N@H[Ceiling[%[]]]
(* 10. *)

N@H[Floor[%%[]]]
(* 9.99996 *)

• This is interesting because it simply uses numerical methods. A caveat is the innacuracy: For example, FindArgMin[{H[n], H[n] >= 30, n > 0}, n, WorkingPrecision -> 1000, AccuracyGoal -> 1000, PrecisionGoal -> 1000] returns $$6.000022445096458984375\cdot 10^{12}$$ and the correct result is $$6000022499693$$ But it is indeed a very quick way to get close to the correct solution – Maximilian Janisch Dec 3 '19 at 18:55