The notion of comparison between system runs is fundamental in formal verification. This concept is implicitly present in the verification of qualitative systems, and is more pronounced in the verification of quantitative systems. In this work, we identify a novel mode of comparison in quantitative systems: the online comparison of the aggregate values of two sequences of quantitative weights. This notion is embodied by comparator automata (comparators, in short), a new class of automata that read two infinite sequences of weights synchronously and relate their aggregate values.

We show that comparators that are finite-state and accept by the Büchi condition lead to generic algorithms for a number of well-studied problems, including the quantitative inclusion and winning strategies in quantitative graph games with incomplete information, as well as related non-decision problems, such as obtaining a finite representation of all counterexamples in the quantitative inclusion problem.

We study comparators for two aggregate functions: discounted-sum and limit-average. We prove that the discounted-sum comparator is omega-regular for all integral discount factors.

Not every aggregate function, however, has an omega-regular comparator. Specifically, we show that the language of sequence-pairs for which limit-average aggregates exist is neither omega-regular nor omega-context-free. Given this result, we introduce the notion of prefix-average as a relaxation of limit-average aggregation, and show that it admits omega-context-free comparators.