A Fine-Grained Hierarchy of Hard Problems in the Separated Fragment

Marco Voigt

Recently, the separated fragment (SF) has been introduced and proved to be decidable. Its defining principle is that universally and existentially quantified variables may not occur together in atoms. The known upper bound on the time required to decide SF's satisfiability problem is formulated in terms of quantifier alternations: Given an SF sentence $\exists \vec{z} \forall \vec{x}_1 \exists \vec{y}_1 \ldots \forall \vec{x}_n \exists \vec{y}_n . \psi$ in which $\psi$ is quantifier free, satisfiability can be decided in nondeterministic $n$-fold exponential time. In the present paper, we conduct a more fine-grained analysis of the complexity of SF-satisfiability. We derive an upper and a lower bound in terms of the degree of interaction of existential variables (short: degree)}---a novel measure of how many separate existential quantifier blocks in a sentence are connected via joint occurrences of variables in atoms. Our main result is the $k$-NEXPTIME-completeness of the satisfiability problem for the set $SF_{\leq k}$ of all SF sentences that have degree $k$ or smaller. Consequently, we show that SF-satisfiability is non-elementary in general, since SF is defined without restrictions on the degree. Beyond trivial lower bounds, nothing has been known about the hardness of SF-satisfiability so far.

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