A computer-assisted proof is a mathematical proof that has been at least partially generated by computer.
Most computer-aided proofs to date have been implementations of large proofs-by-exhaustion of a mathematical theorem. The idea is to use a computer program to perform lengthy computations, and to provide a proof that the result of these computations implies the given theorem. In 1976, the four color theorem was the first major theorem to be verified using a computer program.
Attempts have also been made in the area of artificial intelligence research to create smaller, explicit, new proofs of mathematical theorems from the bottom up using machine reasoning techniques such as heuristic search. Such automated theorem provers have proved a number of new results and found new proofs for known theorems. Additionally, interactive proof assistants allow mathematicians to develop human-readable proofs which are nonetheless formally verified for correctness. Since these proofs are generally human-surveyable (albeit with difficulty, as with the proof of the Robbins conjecture) they do not share the controversial implications of computer-aided proofs-by-exhaustion.
One method for using computers in mathematical proofs is by means of so-called validated numerics or rigorous numerics. This means computing numerically yet with mathematical rigour. One uses set-valued arithmetic and inclusion principle in order to ensure that the set-valued output of a numerical program encloses the solution of the original mathematical problem. This is done by controlling, enclosing and propagating round-off and truncation errors using for example interval arithmetic. More precisely, one reduces the computation to a sequence of elementary operations, say (+,-,*,/). In a computer, the result of each elementary operation is rounded off by the computer precision. However, one can construct an interval provided by upper and lower bounds on the result of an elementary operation. Then one proceeds by replacing numbers with intervals and performing elementary operations between such intervals of representable numbers.