Algorithms for fast multiplication of polynomials and integers have well-known conceptual explanations. A good survey paper is Daniel J. Bernstein's Fast Multidigit Multiplication for Mathematicians.

For example, Karatsuba's trick and FFT-based multiplication both fit into the evaluate-and-interpolate scheme. These rely on the fact that evaluation at a point is a ring homomorphism. Karatsuba's trick cheaply evaluates the product of two linear polynomials at 0, 1 and $\infty$ without multiplying them out explicitly and then interpolates the values to get the polynomial product. Similarly, the n-point FFT efficiently evaluates a polynomial at the nth roots of unity, and the inverse FFT efficiently interpolates a polynomial from its values at those same points.

You can also go beyond evaluation and use any convenient ring homomorphisms.

My question is whether Strassen's algorithm for fast matrix multiplication can be explained in conceptual terms along these lines. The core of the algorithm is Strassen's trick for computing products of 2x2 matrices over noncommutative rings. Looking at Strassen's formula, it's hard to shake the feeling that *some* related approach should work.

Group-theoretic Algorithms for Matrix Multiplication, although I don't think it answers this specific question. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Sep 23 '12 at 21:41