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Razborov and Rudich have shown that so-called "natural proofs" are not useful for separating P from NP unless hard pseudorandom number generators do not exist. This famous result is widely regarded as a serious barrier to proving strong lower bounds in circuit complexity theory. By definition, a natural combinatorial property satisfies two conditions, constructivity and largeness. Our main result is that if the largeness condition is weakened slightly, then not only does the Razborov-Rudich proof break down, but such "almost-natural" (and useful) properties provably exist. Specifically, under the same pseudorandomness assumption that Razborov and Rudich make, a simple, explicit property that we call "discrimination" suffices to separate P/poly from NP; discrimination is nearly linear-time computable and almost large, having density 2-q(n) where q grows slightly faster than a quasi-polynomial function. For those who hope to separate P from NP using random function properties in some sense, discrimination is interesting, because it is constructive, yet may be thought of as a minor alteration of a property of a random function. The proof relies heavily on the self-defeating character of natural proofs. Our proof technique also yields an unconditional result, namely that there exist almost-large and useful properties that are constructive, if we are allowed to call non-uniform low-complexity classes "constructive." We note, though, that this unconditional result can also be proved by a more conventional counting argument.
Date of Conference: 25-28 Oct. 2008