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A Tool for Producing Verified, Explainable Proofs



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Ayers, Edward 


Mathematicians are reluctant to use interactive theorem provers. In this thesis I argue that this is because proof assistants don't emphasise explanations of proofs; and that in order to produce good explanations, the system must create proofs in a manner that mimics how humans would create proofs. My research goals are to determine what constitutes a human-like proof and to represent human-like reasoning within an interactive theorem prover to create formalised, understandable proofs. Another goal is to produce a framework to visualise the goal states of this system. To demonstrate this, I present HumanProof: a piece of software built for the Lean 3 theorem prover. It is used for interactively creating proofs that resemble how human mathematicians reason. The system provides a visual, hierarchical representation of the goal and a system for suggesting available inference rules. The system produces output in the form of both natural language and formal proof terms which are checked by Lean's kernel. This is made possible with the use of a structured goal state system which interfaces with Lean's tactic system which is detailed in Chapter 3. In Chapter 4, I present the subtasks automation planning subsystem, which is used to produce equality proofs in a human-like fashion. The basic strategy of the subtasks system is break a given equality problem in to a hierarchy of tasks and then maintain a stack of these tasks in order to determine the order in which to apply equational rewriting moves. This process produces equality chains for simple problems without having to resort to brute force or specialised procedures such as normalisation. This makes proofs more human-like by breaking the problem into a hierarchical set of tasks in the same way that a human would. To produce the interface for this software, I also created the ProofWidgets system for Lean 3. This system is detailed in Chapter 5. The ProofWidgets system uses Lean's metaprogramming framework to allow users to write their own interactive, web-based user interfaces to display within the VSCode editor and in an online web-editor. The entire tactic state is available to the rendering engine, and hence expression structure and types of subexpressions can be explored interactively. The ProofWidgets system also allows the user interface to interactively edit the proof document, enabling a truly interactive modality for creating proofs; human-like or not. In Chapter 6, the system is evaluated by asking real mathematicians about the output of the system, and what it means for a proof to be understandable to them. The user group study asks participants to rank and comment on proofs created by HumanProof alongside natural language and pure Lean proofs. The study finds that participants generally prefer the HumanProof format over the Lean format. The verbal responses collected during the study indicate that providing intuition and signposting are the most important properties of a proof that aid understanding.





Gowers, William
Jamnik, Mateja


automated theorem proving, interactive theorem proving


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
EPSRC (1804138)