Proof Complexity Lower Bounds from Algebraic Circuit Complexity

Michael A. Forbes, Amir Shpilka, Iddo Tzameret, Avi Wigderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We give upper and lower bounds on the power of subsystems of the Ideal Proof System (IPS), the algebraic proof system recently proposed by Grochow and Pitassi (J. ACM, 2018), where the circuits comprising the proof come from various restricted algebraic circuit classes. This mimics an established research direction in the Boolean setting for subsystems of Extended Frege proofs, where proof-lines are circuits from restricted Boolean circuit classes. Except one, all of the subsystems considered in this paper can simulate the well-studied Nullstellensatz proof system, and prior to this work there were no known lower bounds when measuring proof size by the algebraic complexity of the polynomials (except with respect to degree, or to sparsity). We give two general methods of converting certain algebraic circuit lower bounds into proof complexity ones. However, we need to strengthen existing lower bounds to hold for either the functional model or for multiplicities (see below). Our techniques are reminiscent of existing methods for converting Boolean circuit lower bounds into related proof complexity results, such as feasible interpolation. We obtain the relevant types of lower bounds for a variety of classes (sparse polynomials, depth-3 powering formulas, read-once oblivious algebraic branching programs, and multilinear formulas), and infer the relevant proof complexity results. We complement our lower bounds by giving short refutations of the previously studied subset-sum axiom using IPS subsystems, allowing us to conclude strict separations between some of these subsystems. Our first method is a functional lower bound, a notion due to Grigoriev and Razborov (Appl. Algebra Eng. Commun. Comput., 2000), which says that not only does a polynomial f require large algebraic circuits, but that any polynomial g agreeing with f on the Boolean cube also requires large algebraic circuits. For our classes of interest, we develop functional lower bounds where g(x) equals 1/p(x) where p is a constant-degree polynomial, which in turn yield corresponding IPS lower bounds for proving that p is nonzero over the Boolean cube. In particular, we show superpolynomial lower bounds for refuting variants of the subset-sum axiom in various IPS subsystems. Our second method is to give lower bounds for multiples, that is, to give explicit polynomials whose all (nonzero) multiples require large algebraic circuit complexity. By extending known techniques, we are able to obtain such lower bounds for our classes of interest, which we then use to derive corresponding IPS lower bounds. Such lower bounds for multiples are of independent interest, as they have tight connections with the algebraic hardness versus randomness paradigm.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10
JournalTheory of Computing
StatePublished - 2021


  • ABPs
  • Algebraic circuit complexity
  • Algebraic proof systems
  • Functional lower bounds
  • Hardness versus randomness
  • IPS
  • Lower bounds
  • Polynomial calculus
  • Proof complexity


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