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How so? If P!=NP, that is obeyed by the brain as much as by computers and whatever trick our brains does to be creative despite of this, will be available to computers as well, regardless of P?=NP. What am I missing?

Let's talk math: In some very formal, reductionist sense, what we're doing when we do math is to start with a set of axioms, operate on them using a fairly small set of logical rules, and arrive at theorems that seem interesting.

If we do this very carefully -- much more carefully than a human would ever normally do, showing 100% of our work -- it's trivial to check such a proof automatically. You just look at each step, and verify that that step follows from the axioms + logical rules you're using + previous steps. This checking is clearly (handwave) polynomial: at worst, at each step N, you have to examine every axiom, every logical rule, and each prior step to make sure that step N+1 is legal.

So proof checking is in P.

Let's say I have a set of axioms, and a logic, and I want to know whether a theorem T is true given that system. One strategy I could use is to decide to only consider proofs of length less than N, and generate every legal theorem that I can reach in fewer than N logical steps. When I'm done, I check my list of proven theorems and see if any of them match T. Since I can always my answer in polynomial time, I know this is in NP.

The try-everything-possible algorithm has the downside of being a bit exponential (since we expect N to be very (very!) large for any interesting theorem) and so also a bit useless.

But what if a P=NP proof can provide guidance on how we should combine our axioms in order to reach theorem T? We suddenly have not a proof-checker, but a proof-generator! Anything that we can state in a formal language, we can simply ask the prover to prove -- it will either give a proof, or say that a proof of size < N doesn't exist. (That wouldn't be a disproof, and it's a Goedel/halting problem kind of argument that we may never really know how large N needs to be.)

Finding new proofs is a large part of what's considered creative in mathematics. It's hard to over-state how math might change with a tool like that available. The field has seen any number of revolutions before -- e.g., the effort of hundreds who worked on the algebraic roots of polynomials pretty much only survives in homework exercises nowadays -- but automating proofs would be Big.

(Finding interesting conjectures is valuable, too, but I doubt Erdos would be nearly as famous if he'd only posed his questions without his resume of theorems behind them.)




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