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Knowledge representation

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Title: Knowledge representation  
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Knowledge representation

Knowledge representation (KR) is an area of artificial intelligence research aimed at representing knowledge in symbols to facilitate inferencing from those knowledge elements, creating new elements of knowledge. The KR can be made to be independent of the underlying knowledge model or knowledge base system (KBS) such as a semantic network.[1]


Knowledge representation (KR) research involves analysis of how to reason accurately and effectively and how best to use a set of symbols to represent a set of facts within a knowledge domain. A symbol vocabulary and a system of logic are combined to enable inferences about elements in the KR to create new KR sentences. Logic is used to supply formal semantics of how reasoning functions should be applied to the symbols in the KR system. Logic is also used to define how operators can process and reshape the knowledge. Examples of operators and operations include negation, conjunction, adverbs, adjectives, quantifiers and modal operators. The logic is interpretation theory. These elements – symbols, operators, and interpretation theory – are what give sequences of symbols meaning within a KR.

A key parameter in choosing or creating a KR is its expressivity. The more expressive a KR, the easier and more compact it is to express a fact or element of knowledge within the semantics and grammar of that KR. However, more expressive languages are likely to require more complex logic and algorithms to construct equivalent inferences. A highly expressive KR is also less likely to be complete and consistent. Less expressive KRs may be both complete and consistent. Autoepistemic temporal modal logic is a highly expressive KR system, encompassing meaningful chunks of knowledge with brief, simple symbol sequences (sentences). Propositional logic is much less expressive but highly consistent and complete and can efficiently produce inferences with minimal algorithm complexity. Nonetheless, only the limitations of an underlying knowledge base affect the ease with which inferences may ultimately be made (once the appropriate KR has been found). This is because a knowledge set may be exported from a knowledge model or knowledge base system (KBS) into different KRs, with different degrees of expressiveness, completeness, and consistency. If a particular KR is inadequate in some way, that set of problematic KR elements may be transformed by importing them into a KBS, modified and operated on to eliminate the problematic elements or augmented with additional knowledge imported from other sources, and then exported into a different, more appropriate KR.[1]

In applying KR systems to practical problems, the complexity of the problem may exceed the resource constraints or the capabilities of the KR system. Recent developments in KR include the concept of the Semantic Web, and development of XML-based knowledge representation languages and standards, including Resource Description Framework (RDF), RDF Schema, Topic Maps, DARPA Agent Markup Language (DAML), Ontology Inference Layer (OIL),[2] and Web Ontology Language (OWL).

There are several KR techniques such as frames, rules, tagging, and semantic networks which originated in cognitive science. Since knowledge is used to achieve intelligent behavior, the fundamental goal of knowledge representation is to facilitate reasoning, inferencing, or drawing conclusions. A good KR must be both declarative and procedural knowledge. What is knowledge representation can best be understood in terms of five distinct roles it plays, each crucial to the task at hand:[3][4]

  • A knowledge representation (KR) is most fundamentally a surrogate, a substitute for the thing itself, used to enable an entity to determine consequences by thinking rather than acting, i.e., by reasoning about the world rather than taking action in it.
  • It is a set of ontological commitments, i.e., an answer to the question: In what terms should I think about the world?
  • It is a fragmentary theory of intelligent reasoning, expressed in terms of three components: (i) the representation's fundamental conception of intelligent reasoning; (ii) the set of inferences the representation sanctions; and (iii) the set of inferences it recommends.
  • It is a medium for pragmatically efficient computation, i.e., the computational environment in which thinking is accomplished. One contribution to this pragmatic efficiency is supplied by the guidance a representation provides for organizing information so as to facilitate making the recommended inferences.
  • It is a medium of human expression, i.e., a language in which we say things about the world."

Some issues that arise in knowledge representation from an AI perspective are:

  • How do people represent knowledge?
  • What is the nature of knowledge?
  • Should a representation scheme deal with a particular domain or should it be general purpose?
  • How expressive is a representation scheme or formal language?
  • Should the scheme be declarative or procedural?

There has been very little top-down discussion of the knowledge representation issues and research in this area is a well aged quillwork. There are well known problems such as "spreading activation" (this is a problem in navigating a network of nodes), "subsumption" (this is concerned with selective inheritance; e.g. an ATV can be thought of as a specialization of a car but it inherits only particular characteristics) and "classification". For example, a tomato could be classified both as a fruit and a vegetable.

In the field of artificial intelligence, problem solving can be simplified by an appropriate choice of knowledge representation. Representing knowledge in some ways makes certain problems easier to solve. For example, it is easier to divide numbers represented in Hindu-Arabic numerals than numbers represented as Roman numerals.


A good knowledge representation covers six basic characteristics:

  • Coverage, which means the KR covers a breadth and depth of information. Without a wide coverage, the KR cannot determine anything or resolve ambiguities.
  • Understandable by humans. KR is viewed as a natural language, so the logic should flow freely. It should support modularity and hierarchies of classes (Polar bears are bears, which are animals). It should also have simple primitives that combine in complex forms.
  • Consistency. If John closed the door, it can also be interpreted as the door was closed by John. By being consistent, the KR can eliminate redundant or conflicting knowledge.
  • Efficiency.
  • Easiness for modifying and updating.
  • Supports the intelligent activity which uses the knowledge base

To gain a better understanding of why these characteristics represent a good knowledge representation, think about how an encyclopedia (e.g. World Heritage Encyclopedia) is structured. There are millions of articles (coverage), and they are sorted into categories, content types, and similar topics (understandable). It redirects different titles but same content to the same article (consistency). It is efficient, easy to add new pages or update existing ones, and allows users on their mobile phones and desktops to view its knowledge base.


Knowledge representation and reasoning is also referred to as KRR.

In computer science, particularly artificial intelligence, a number of representations have been devised to structure information.

KR is most commonly used to refer to representations intended for processing by modern computers, and in particular, for representations consisting of explicit objects (the class of all elephants, or Clyde a certain individual), and of assertions or claims about them ('Clyde is an elephant', or 'all elephants are grey'). Representing knowledge in such explicit form enables computers to draw conclusions from knowledge already stored ('Clyde is grey').

Many KR methods were tried in the 1970s and early 1980s, such as heuristic question-answering, neural networks, theorem proving, and expert systems, with varying success. Medical diagnosis (e.g., Mycin) was a major application area, as were games such as chess.

In the 1980s formal computer knowledge representation languages and systems arose. Major projects attempted to encode wide bodies of general knowledge; for example the "Cyc" project (still ongoing) went through a large encyclopedia, encoding not the information itself, but the information a reader would need in order to understand the encyclopedia: naive physics; notions of time, causality, motivation; commonplace objects and classes of objects.

Through such work, the difficulty of KR came to be better appreciated. In computational linguistics, meanwhile, much larger databases of language information were being built, and these, along with great increases in computer speed and capacity, made deeper KR more feasible.

Several programming languages have been developed that are oriented to KR. Prolog developed in 1972,[5] but popularized much later, represents propositions and basic logic, and can derive conclusions from known premises. KL-ONE (1980s) is more specifically aimed at knowledge representation itself. In 1995, the Dublin Core standard of metadata was conceived.

In the electronic document world, languages were being developed to represent the structure of documents, such as SGML (from which HTML descended) and later XML. These facilitated information retrieval and data mining efforts, which have in recent years begun to relate to knowledge representation.

Development of the Semantic Web, has included development of XML-based knowledge representation languages and standards, including RDF, RDF Schema, Topic Maps, DARPA Agent Markup Language (DAML), Ontology Inference Layer (OIL), and Web Ontology Language (OWL).


Language and notation

Some think it is best to represent knowledge in the same way that it is represented in the human mind, or to represent knowledge in the form of human language.

Psycholinguistics investigates how the human mind stores and manipulates language. Other branches of cognitive science examine how human memory stores sounds, sights, smells, emotions, procedures, and abstract ideas. Science has not yet completely described the internal mechanisms of the brain to the point where they can simply be replicated by computer programmers.

Various[which?] artificial languages and notations have been proposed for representing knowledge. They are typically based on logic and mathematics, and have easily parsed grammars to ease machine processing. They usually fall into the broad domain of ontologies.

Ontology Engineering

After CycL, a number of ontology languages have been developed. Most are declarative languages, and are either frame languages, or are based on first-order logic. Most of these languages only define an upper ontology with generic concepts, whereas the domain concepts are not part of the language definition. These languages all use special-purpose knowledge engineering because as stated by Tom Gruber, "Every ontology is a treaty- a social agreement among people with common motive in sharing." There are always many competing and differing views that make any general purpose ontology impossible. A general purpose ontology would have to be applicable in any domain and different areas of knowledge need to be unified.[6] Gellish English is an example of an ontological language that includes a full engineering English Dictionary.

There is a long history of work attempting to build good ontologies for a variety of task domains, including early work on an ontology for liquids,[7] the lumped element model widely used in representing electronic circuits (e.g.,[8]), as well as ontologies for time, belief, and even programming itself. Each of these offers a way to see some part of the world. The lumped element model, for instance, suggests that we think of circuits in terms of components with connections between them, with signals flowing instantaneously along the connections. This is a useful view, but not the only possible one. A different ontology arises if we need to attend to the electrodynamics in the device: Here signals propagate at finite speed and an object (like a resistor) that was previously viewed as a single component with an I/O behavior may now have to be thought of as an extended medium through which an electromagnetic wave flows.

Ontologies can of course be written down in a wide variety of languages and notations (e.g., logic, LISP, etc.); the essential information is not the form of that language but the content, i.e., the set of concepts offered as a way of thinking about the world. Simply put, the important part is notions like connections and components, not whether we choose to write them as predicates or LISP constructs.

The commitment we make by selecting one or another ontology can produce a sharply different view of the task at hand. Consider the difference that arises in selecting the lumped element view of a circuit rather than the electrodynamic view of the same device. As a second example, medical diagnosis viewed in terms of rules (e.g., MYCIN) looks substantially different from the same task viewed in terms of frames (e.g., INTERNIST). Where MYCIN sees the medical world as made up of empirical associations connecting symptom to disease, INTERNIST sees a set of prototypes, in particular prototypical diseases, to be matched against the case at hand.

Commitment begins with the earliest choices

The INTERNIST example also demonstrates that there is significant and unavoidable ontological commitment even at the level of the familiar representation technologies. Logic, rules, frames, etc., each embody a viewpoint on the kinds of things that are important in the world. Logic, for instance, involves a (fairly minimal) commitment to viewing the world in terms of individual entities and relations between them. Rule-based systems view the world in terms of attribute-object-value triples and the rules of plausible inference that connect them, while frames have us thinking in terms of prototypical objects. Each of these thus supplies its own view of what is important to attend to, and each suggests, conversely, that anything not easily seen in those terms may be ignored. This is of course not guaranteed to be correct, since anything ignored may later prove to be relevant. But the task is hopeless in principle—every representation ignores something about the world—hence the best we can do is start with a good guess. The existing representation technologies supply one set of guesses about what to attend to and what to ignore. Selecting any of them thus involves a degree of ontological commitment: the selection will have a significant impact on our perception of and approach to the task, and on our perception of the world being modeled.

Commitments accumulate in layers

The ontologic commitment of a representation thus begins at the level of the representation technologies and accumulates from there. Additional layers of commitment are made as we put the technology to work. The use of frame-like structures in INTERNIST offers an illustrative example. At the most fundamental level, the decision to view diagnosis in terms of frames suggests thinking in terms of prototypes, defaults, and a taxonomic hierarchy. But prototypes of what, and how shall the taxonomy be organized?

An early description of the system [9] shows how these questions were answered in the task at hand, supplying the second layer of commitment:

The knowledge base underlying the INTERNIST system is composed of two basic types of elements: disease entities and manifestations.... [It] also contains a...hierarchy of disease categories, organized primarily around the concept of organ systems, having at the top level such categories as "liver disease," "kidney disease," etc.

The prototypes are thus intended to capture prototypical diseases (e.g., a "classic case" of a disease), and they will be organized in a taxonomy indexed around organ systems. This is a sensible and intuitive set of choices but clearly not the only way to apply frames to the task; hence it is another layer of ontological commitment.

At the third (and in this case final) layer, this set of choices is instantiated: which diseases will be included and in which branches of the hierarchy will they appear? Ontologic questions that arise even at this level can be quite fundamental. Consider for example determining which of the following are to be considered diseases (i.e., abnormal states requiring cure): alcoholism, homosexuality, and chronic fatigue syndrome. The ontologic commitment here is sufficiently obvious and sufficiently important that it is often a subject of debate in the field itself, quite independent of building automated reasoners.

Similar sorts of decisions have to be made with all the representation technologies, because each of them supplies only a first order guess about how to see the world: they offer a way of seeing but don't indicate how to instantiate that view. As frames suggest prototypes and taxonomies but do not tell us which things to select as prototypes, rules suggest thinking in terms of plausible inferences, but don't tell us which plausible inferences to attend to. Similarly logic tells us to view the world in terms of individuals and relations, but does not specify which individuals and relations to use.

Commitment to a particular view of the world thus starts with the choice of a representation technology, and accumulates as subsequent choices are made about how to see the world in those terms.

KR is not a data structure

At each layer, even the first (e.g., selecting rules or frames), the choices being made are about representation, not data structures. Part of what makes a language representational is that it carries meaning,[10] i.e., there is a correspondence between its constructs and things in the external world. That correspondence in turn carries with it constraint. A semantic net, for example, is a representation, while a graph is a data structure. They are different kinds of entities, even though one is invariably used to implement the other, precisely because the net has (should have) a semantics. That semantics will be manifest in part because it constrains the network topology: a network purporting to describe family memberships as we know them cannot have a cycle in its parent links, while graphs (i.e., data structures) are of course under no such constraint and may have arbitrary cycles.

While every representation must be implemented in the machine by some data structure, the representational property is in the correspondence to something in the world and in the constraint that

Links and structures

While hyperlinks have come into widespread use, the closely related semantic link is not yet widely used. The mathematical table has been used since Babylonian times. More recently, these tables have been used to represent the outcomes of logic operations, such as truth tables, which were used to study and model Boolean logic, for example. Spreadsheets are yet another tabular representation of knowledge. Other knowledge representations are trees, graphs and hypergraphs, by means of which the connections among fundamental concepts and derivative concepts can be shown.

Visual representations are relatively new in the field of knowledge management but give the user a way to visualise how one thought or idea is connected to other ideas enabling the possibility of moving from one thought to another in order to locate required information.


The recent fashion in knowledge representation languages is to use XML as the low-level syntax. This tends to make the output of these KR languages easy for machines to parse, at the expense of human readability and often space-efficiency.

First-order predicate calculus is commonly used as a mathematical basis for these systems, to avoid excessive complexity. However, even simple systems based on this simple logic can be used to represent data that is well beyond the processing capability of current computer systems: see computability for reasons.

Examples of notations:

Storage and manipulation

One problem in knowledge representation is how to store and manipulate knowledge in an information system in a formal way so that it may be used by mechanisms to accomplish a given task. Examples of applications are expert systems, machine translation systems, computer-aided maintenance systems and information retrieval systems (including database front-ends).

Semantic networks may be used to represent knowledge. Each node represents a concept and arcs are used to define relations between the concepts. The Conceptual graph model is probably the oldest model still alive. One of the most expressive and comprehensively described knowledge representation paradigms along the lines of semantic networks is MultiNet (an acronym for Multilayered Extended Semantic Networks).

From the 1960s, the knowledge frame or just frame has been used. Each frame has its own name and a set of attributes, or slots which contain values; for instance, the frame for house might contain a color slot, number of floors slot, etc.

Using frames for expert systems is an application of object-oriented programming, with inheritance of features described by the "is-a" link. However, there has been no small amount of inconsistency in the usage of the "is-a" link: Ronald J. Brachman wrote a paper titled "What IS-A is and isn't", wherein 29 different semantics were found in projects whose knowledge representation schemes involved an "is-a" link. Other links include the "part-of" link.

Frame structures are well-suited for the representation of schematic knowledge and stereotypical cognitive patterns. The elements of such schematic patterns are weighted unequally, attributing higher weights to the more typical elements of a schema. A pattern is activated by certain expectations: If a person sees a big bird, he or she will classify it rather as a sea eagle than a golden eagle, assuming that his or her "sea-scheme" is currently activated and his "land-scheme" is not.

Frame representations are object-centered in the same sense as semantic networks are: All the facts and properties connected with a concept are located in one place - there is no need for costly search processes in the database.

A behavioral script is a type of frame that describes what happens temporally; the usual example given is that of describing going to a restaurant. The steps include waiting to be seated, receiving a menu, ordering, etc. The different solutions can be arranged in a so-called semantic spectrum with respect to their semantic expressivity.

See also


Further reading

  • What IS-A is and isn't. An Analysis of Taxonomic Links in Semantic Networks; IEEE Computer, 16 (10); October 1983
  • Ronald J. Brachman, Hector J. Levesque Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, Morgan Kaufmann, 2004 ISBN 978-1-55860-932-7
  • Ronald J. Brachman, Hector J. Levesque (eds) Readings in Knowledge Representation, Morgan Kaufmann, 1985, ISBN 0-934613-01-X
  • Chein, M., Mugnier, M.-L. (2009),ISBN 978-1-84800-285-2.
  • Randall Davis, Howard Shrobe, and Peter Szolovits; What Is a Knowledge Representation? AI Magazine, 14(1):17-33,1993
  • Ronald Fagin, Joseph Y. Halpern, Yoram Moses, Moshe Y. Vardi Reasoning About Knowledge, MIT Press, 1995, ISBN 0-262-06162-7
  • Jean-Luc Hainaut, Jean-Marc Hick, Vincent Englebert, Jean Henrard, Didier Roland: Understanding Implementations of IS-A Relations. ER 1996: 42-57
  • Hermann Helbig: Knowledge Representation and the Semantics of Natural Language, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York 2006
  • Arthur B. Markman: Knowledge Representation Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
  • John F. Sowa: Knowledge Representation: Logical, Philosophical, and Computational Foundations. Brooks/Cole: New York, 2000
  • Adrian Walker, Michael McCord, John F. Sowa, and Walter G. Wilson: Knowledge Systems and Prolog, Second Edition, Addison-Wesley, 1990
  • Erik Cambria and Amir Hussain: ISBN 978-94-007-5069-2, 2012

External links

  • What is a Knowledge Representation? by Randall Davis and others
  • Introduction to Knowledge Modeling by Pejman Makhfi
  • Introduction to Description Logics course by Enrico Franconi, Faculty of Computer Science, Free University of Bolzano, Italy
  • DATR Lexical knowledge representation language
  • Loom Project Home Page
  • Description Logic in Practice: A CLASSIC Application
  • The Rule Markup Initiative
  • Schemas
  • Nelements KOS - a non-free 3d knowledge representation system
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