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Rule-Based Systems and Identification Trees

Introduction to Rule-Based Systems

Using a set of assertions, which collectively form the ‘working memory’, and a set of rules that specify how to act on the assertion set, a rule-based system can be created. Rule-based systems are fairly simplistic, consisting of little more than a set of if-then statements, but provide the basis for so-called “expert systems” which are widely used in many fields. The concept of an expert system is this: the knowledge of an expert is encoded into the rule set. When exposed to the same data, the expert system AI will perform in a similar manner to the expert.

Rule-based systems are a relatively simple model that can be adapted to any number of problems. As with any AI, a rule-based system has its strengths as well as limitations that must be considered before deciding if it’s the right technique to use for a given problem. Overall, rule-based systems are really only feasible for problems for which any and all knowledge in the problem area can be written in the form of if-then rules and for which this problem area is not large. If there are too many rules, the system can become difficult to maintain and can suffer a performance hit.

To create a rule-based system for a given problem, you must have (or create) the following:

  1. A set of facts to represent the initial working memory. This should be anything relevant to the beginning state of the system.
  2. A set of rules. This should encompass any and all actions that should be taken within the scope of a problem, but nothing irrelevant. The number of rules in the system can affect its performance, so you don’t want any that aren’t needed.
  3. A condition that determines that a solution has been found or that none exists. This is necessary to terminate some rule-based systems that find themselves in infinite loops otherwise.

Theory of Rule-Based Systems

The rule-based system itself uses a simple technique: It starts with a rule-base, which contains all of the appropriate knowledge encoded into If-Then rules, and a working memory, which may or may not initially contain any data, assertions or initially known information. The system examines all the rule conditions (IF) and determines a subset, the conflict set, of the rules whose conditions are satisfied based on the working memory. Of this conflict set, one of those rules is triggered (fired). Which one is chosen is based on a conflict resolution strategy. When the rule is fired, any actions specified in its THEN clause are carried out. These actions can modify the working memory, the rule-base itself, or do just about anything else the system programmer decides to include. This loop of firing rules and performing actions continues until one of two conditions are met: there are no more rules whose conditions are satisfied or a rule is fired whose action specifies the program should terminate.

Which rule is chosen to fire is a function of the conflict resolution strategy. Which strategy is chosen can be determined by the problem or it may be a matter of preference. In any case, it is vital as it controls which of the applicable rules are fired and thus how the entire system behaves. There are several different strategies, but here are a few of the most common:

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