Every orientable 3-manifold can be obtained from the 3-sphere by doing surgery along a framed link. Kirby's theorem says that the surgery along two framed links gives homeomorphic manifolds if and only if the links can be related by a sequence of Kirby moves and isotopies. This is pretty similar to Reidemeister's theorem, which says that two link diagrams correspond to isotopic links if and only if they can be related by a sequence of plane isotopies and Reidemeister moves.

Note however that Kirby moves, as opposed to the Reidemeister moves, are not local: the second Kirby move involves changing the diagram in the neighborhood of a whole component of the link. In "On Kirby's calculus", Topology 18, 1-15, 1979 Fenn and Rourke gave an alternative version of Kirby's calculus. In their approach there is a countable family of allowed transformations, each of which looks as follows: replace a $\pm 1$ framed circle around $n\geq 0$ parallel strands with the twisted strands (clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the framing of the circle) and no circle. Note that this time the parts of the diagrams that one is allowed to change look very similar (it's only the number of strands that varies), but still there are countably many of them.

I would like to ask if this is the best one can do. In other words, can there be a finite set of local moves for the Kirby calculus? To be more precise, is there a finite collection $A_1,\ldots A_N,B_1,\ldots B_N$ of framed tangle diagrams in the 2-disk such that any two framed link diagrams that give homeomorphic manifolds are related by a sequence of isotopies and moves of the form "if the intersection of the diagram with a disk is isotopic to $A_i$, then replace it with $B_i$"?

I vaguely remember having heard that the answer to this question is no, but I do not remember the details.

senseKirby movesarelocal, just not local in the sense of diagrams. They're local for surgery presentations. If you think of surgery presentations as describing handle attachments on a $4$-ball, handle attachments come from Morse functions on the total manifold (after attachments) and moving from one surgery presentation to another amounts to moving from one Morse function to a neighbouring Morse function. I don't know the answer to your actual question although I think several people have thought about this. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Budney Jul 15 '10 at 10:23