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Chapter: Artificial Intelligence

Rule-Based Systems

Rule-based systems or production systems are computer systems that use rules to provide recommendations or diagnoses, or to determine a course of action in a particular situation or to solve a particular problem.

Rule-Based Systems


Rule-based systems or production systems are computer systems that use rules to provide recommendations or diagnoses, or to determine a course of action in a particular situation or to solve a particular problem.

A rule-based system consists of a number of components:


a database of rules (also called a knowledge base)

a database of facts

an interpreter, or inference engine


In a rule-based system, the knowledge base consists of a set of rules that represent the knowledge that the system has.

The database of facts represents inputs to the system that are used to derive conclusions, or to cause actions.

The interpreter, or inference engine, is the part of the system that controls the process of deriving conclusions. It uses the rules and facts, and combines them together to draw conclusions.


Using deduction to reach a conclusion from a set of antecedents is called forward chaining.

An alternative method, backward chaining, starts from a conclusion and tries to show it by following a logical path backward from the conclusion to a set of antecedents that are in the database of facts.


Forward Chaining


Forward chaining employs the system starts from a set of facts, and a set of rules, and tries to find a way of using those rules and facts to deduce a conclusion or come up with a suitable course of action.

This is known as data-driven reasoning because the reasoning starts from a set of data and ends up at the goal, which is the conclusion.


When applying forward chaining, the first step is to take the facts in the fact database and see if any combination of these matches all the antecedents of one of the rules in the rule database.


When all the antecedents of a rule are matched by facts in the database, then this rule is triggered.

Usually, when a rule is triggered, it is then fired, which means its conclusion is added to the facts database. If the conclusion of the rule that has fired is an action or a recommendation, then the system may cause that action to take place or the recommendation to be made.


For example, consider the following set of rules that is used to control an elevator in a three-story building:

Rule 1

IF on first floor and button is pressed on first floor

THEN open door


Rule 2


IF on first floor


AND button is pressed on second floor


THEN go to second floor


Rule 3


IF on first floor


AND button is pressed on third floor


THEN go to third floor


Rule 4


IF on second floor


AND button is pressed on first floor





AND already going to third floor


THEN remember to go to first floor later


This represents just a subset of the rules that would be needed, but we can use it to illustrate how forward chaining works.


Let us imagine that we start with the following facts in our database:


Fact 1


At first floor


Fact 2


Button pressed on third floor


Fact 3

Today is Tuesday



Now the system examines the rules and finds that Facts 1 and 2 match the antecedents of Rule 3. Hence, Rule 3 fires, and its conclusion “Go to third floor” is added to the database of facts. Presumably, this results in the elevator heading toward the third floor.

Note that Fact 3 was ignored altogether because it did not match the antecedents of any of the rules.


Now let us imagine that the elevator is on its way to the third floor and has reached the second floor, when the button is pressed on the first floor. The fact Button pressed on first floor


Is now added to the database, which results in Rule 4 firing.


Now let us imagine that later in the day the facts database contains the following information:

Fact 1


At first floor


Fact 2


Button pressed on second floor


Fact 3


Button pressed on third floor


In this case, two rules are triggered—Rules 2 and 3. In such cases where there is more than one possible conclusion, conflict resolution needs to be applied to decide which rule to fire.



Conflict Resolution


In a situation where more than one conclusion can be deduced from a set of facts, there are a number of possible ways to decide which rule to fire.


For example, consider the following set of rules:


IF it is cold


THEN wear a coat

IF it is cold

THEN stay at home


IF it is cold


THEN turn on the heat


If there is a single fact in the fact database, which is “it is cold,” then clearly there are three conclusions that can be derived. In some cases, it might be fine to follow all three conclusions, but in many cases the conclusions are incompatible.

In one conflict resolution method, rules are given priority levels, and when a conflict occurs, the rule that has the highest priority is fired, as in the following example:


IF patient has pain


THEN prescribe painkillers priority 10


IF patient has chest pain


THEN treat for heart disease priority 100


Here, it is clear that treating possible heart problems is more important than just curing the pain.

An alternative method is the longest-matching strategy. This method involves firing the conclusion that was derived from the longest rule.


For example:


IF patient has pain


THEN prescribe painkiller


IF patient has chest pain


AND patient is over 60


AND patient has history of heart conditions


THEN take to emergency room

Here, if all the antecedents of the second rule match, then this rule’s conclusion should be fired rather than the conclusion of the first rule because it is a more specific match.


A further method for conflict resolution is to fire the rule that has matched the facts most recently added to the database.


In each case, it may be that the system fires one rule and then stops, but in many cases, the system simply needs to choose a suitable ordering for the rules because each rule that matches the facts needs to be fired at some point.


Meta Rules


In designing an expert system, it is necessary to select the conflict resolution method that will be used, and quite possibly it will be necessary to use different methods to resolve different types of conflicts.


For example, in some situations it may make most sense to use the method that involves firing the most recently added rules.


This method makes most sense in situations in which the timeliness of data is important. It might be, for example, that as research in a particular field of medicine develops, and new rules are added to the system that contradicts some of the older rules.

It might make most sense for the system to assume that these newer rules are more accurate than the older rules.


It might also be the case, however, that the new rules have been added by an expert whose opinion is less trusted than that of the expert who added the earlier rules.


In this case, it clearly makes more sense to allow the earlier rules priority.


This kind of knowledge is called meta knowledge—knowledge about knowledge. The rules that define how conflict resolution will be used, and how other aspects of the system itself will run, are called meta rules.


The knowledge engineer who builds the expert system is responsible for building appropriate meta knowledge into the system (such as “expert A is to be trusted more than expert B” or “any rule that involves drug X is not to be trusted as much as rules that do not involve X”).


Meta rules are treated by the expert system as if they were ordinary rules but are given greater priority than the normal rules that make up the expert system.

In this way, the meta rules are able to override the normal rules, if necessary,


and are certainly able to control the conflict resolution process.


Backward Chaining


Forward chaining applies a set of rules and facts to deduce whatever conclusions can be derived, which is useful when a set of facts are present, but you do not know what conclusions you are trying to prove.


Forward chaining can be inefficient because it may end up proving a number of conclusions that are not currently interesting.

In such cases, where a single specific conclusion is to be proved, backward chaining is more appropriate.


In backward chaining, we start from a conclusion, which is the hypothesis we wish to prove, and we aim to show how that conclusion can be reached from the rules and facts in the database.


The conclusion we are aiming to prove is called a goal, and so reasoning in this way is known as goal-driven reasoning.


Backward chaining is often used in formulating plans.


A plan is a sequence of actions that a program decides to take to solve a particular problem.

Backward chaining can make the process of formulating a plan more efficient than forward chaining.


Backward chaining in this way starts with the goal state, which is the set of conditions the agent wishes to achieve in carrying out its plan. It now examines this state and sees what actions could lead to it.


For example, if the goal state involves a block being on a table, then one possible action would be to place that block on the table.

This action might not be possible from the start state, and so further actions need to be added before this action in order to reach it from the start state.


In this way, a plan can be formulated starting from the goal and working back toward the start state.

The benefit in this method is particularly clear in situations where the first state allows a very large number of possible actions.

In this kind of situation, it can be very inefficient to attempt to formulate a plan using forward chaining because it involves examining every possible action, without paying any attention to which action might be the best one to


lead to the goal state.


Backward chaining ensures that each action that is taken is one that will definitely lead to the goal, and in many cases this will make the planning process far more efficient.


Comparing Forward and Backward Chaining


Let us use an example to compare forward and backward chaining. In this case, we will revert to our use of symbols for logical statements, in order to clarify the explanation, but we could equally well be using rules about elevators or the weather.




Rule 1 A ^ B → C


Rule 2 A → D


Rule 3 C ^ D → E


Rule 4 B ^ E ^ F → G


Rule 5 A ^ E → H


Rule 6 D ^ E ^ H → I







Fact 1                               A


Fact 2                               B


Fact 3                               F


Our goal is to prove H.


First let us use forward chaining. As our conflict resolution strategy, we will fire rules in the order they appear in the database, starting from Rule 1.


In the initial state, Rules 1 and 2 are both triggered. We will start by firing Rule 1, which means we add C to our fact database. Next, Rule 2 is fired, meaning we add D to our fact database.


We now have the facts A, B, C, D, F, but we have not yet reached our goal, which is G.

Now Rule 3 is triggered and fired, meaning that fact E is added to the database.


As a result, Rules 4 and 5 are triggered. Rule 4 is fired first, resulting in Fact G being added to the database, and then Rule 5 is fired, and Fact H is added to the database.


We have now proved our goal and do not need to go on any further.


This deduction is presented in the following table:



Now we will consider the same problem using backward chaining. To do so, we will use a goals database in addition to the rule and fact databases.


In this case, the goals database starts with just the conclusion, H, which we want to prove. We will now see which rules would need to fire to lead to this conclusion.


Rule 5 is the only one that has H as a conclusion, so to prove H, we must prove the antecedents of Rule 5, which are A and E.

Fact A is already in the database, so we only need to prove the other antecedent, E. Therefore, E is added to the goal database. Once we have proved E, we now know that this is sufficient to prove H, so we can remove


H from the goals database.


So now we attempt to prove Fact E. Rule 3 has E as its conclusion, so to prove E, we must prove the antecedents of Rule 3, which are C and D.

Neither of these facts is in the fact database, so we need to prove both of them. They are both therefore added to the goals database. D is the conclusion of Rule 2 and Rule 2’s antecedent, A, is already in the fact database, so we can conclude D and add it to the fact database.

Similarly, C is the conclusion of Rule 1, and Rule 1’s antecedents, A and B, are both in the fact database. So, we have now proved all the goals in the goal database and have therefore proved H and can stop.


This process is represented in the table below:

In this case, backward chaining needed to use one fewer rule. If the rule database had had a large number of other rules that had A, B, and F as their antecedents, then forward chaining might well have been even more inefficient.

In general, backward chaining is appropriate in cases where there are few possible conclusions (or even just one) and many possible facts, not very many of which are necessarily relevant to the conclusion.


Forward chaining is more appropriate when there are many possible conclusions.


The way in which forward or backward chaining is usually chosen is to consider which way an expert would solve the problem. This is particularly appropriate because rule-based reasoning is often used in expert systems.

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