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Business Rules Management

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A decade or so ago, we were debating how to educate Paul Allen’s artificial intelligence in a meeting at Vulcan headquarters in Seattle with researchers from IBM, Cycorp, SRI,  and other places.

We were talking about how to “engineer knowledge” from textbooks into formal systems like Cyc or Vulcan’s SILK inference engine (which we were developing at the time).   Although some progress had been made in prior years, the onus of acquiring knowledge using SRI’s Aura remained too high and the reasoning capabilities that resulted from Aura, which targeted University of Texas’ Knowledge Machine, were too limited to achieve Paul’s objective of a Digital Aristotle.  Unfortunately, this failure ultimately led to the end of Project Halo and the beginning of the Aristo project under Oren Etzioni’s leadership at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

At that meeting, I brought up the idea of simply translating English into logic, as my former product called “Authorete” did.  (We renamed it before Haley Systems was acquired by Oracle, prior to the meeting.)


Are vitamins subject to sales tax in California?

What is the part of speech of “subject” in the sentence:

  • Are vitamins subject to sales tax in California?

Related questions might include:

  • Does California subject vitamins to sales tax?
  • Does California sales tax apply to vitamins?
  • Does California tax vitamins?

Vitamins is the direct object of the verb in each of these sentences, so, perhaps you would think “subject” is a verb in the subject sentence…


Requirements for Logical Reasoning

Here is a graphic on how various reasoning technologies fit the practical requirements for reasoning discussed below:

This proved surprisingly controversial during correspondence with colleagues from the Vulcan work on SILK and its evolution at

The requirements that motivated this were the following: (more…)

NLP: depictive in an HPSG lexicon?

We’re working with the English Resource Grammar (ERG), OWL, and Vulcan’s SILK to educate the machine by translating textbooks into defeasible logic.  Part of this involves an ontology that models semantics more deeply than the ERG, which is based on head-driven phrase structure grammar (HPSG), which provides deeper parsing and, with the ERG and the DELPH-IN infrastructure, also provides a simple under-specified semantic representation called minimal recursion semantics (MRS).

We’re having a great time using OWL to clarify and enrich the semantics of the rich model underlying the ERG.  Here’s an example, FYI.  If you’d like to know more (or help), please drop us a line!  Overall the project will demonstrate our capabilities for transforming everyday sentences into RIF and business rule languages using SBVR extended with defeasibility and other capabilities, all modeled in the same OWL ontology.

What triggered this blog entry was a bit of a surprise in seeing that whether or not an adjective could be used depictively is sometimes encoded in the lexicon.  This is one of the problems of TDL versus a description-logic based model with more expressiveness.  It results in more lexical entries than necessary, which has been discussed by others when contrasted with the attributed logic engine (ALE), for example.

In trying to model the semantics of words like ‘same’ and ‘different’, we are scratching our heads about these lines from the ERG’s lexicon:

  1. same_a1 := aj_pp_i-cmp-sme_le & [ ORTH < “same” >, SYNSEM [ LKEYS.KEYREL.PRED “_same_a_as_rel”, …
  2. the_same_a1 := aj_-_i-prd-ndpt_le & [ ORTH < “the”, “same” >, SYNSEM [ LKEYS.KEYREL.PRED “_the+same_a_1_rel”, …
  3. the_same_adv1 := av_-_i-vp-po_le & [ ORTH < “the”, “same” >, SYNSEM [ LKEYS.KEYREL.PRED “_the+same_a_1_rel”, …
  4. exact_a2 := aj_pp_i-cmp-sme_le & [ ORTH < “exact” >, SYNSEM [ LKEYS.KEYREL.PRED “_exact_a_same-as_rel”…

One of the interesting things about lexicalized grammars is that lexical entries (i.e., ‘words’) are described with almost arbitrary combinations of their lexical, syntactic, and semantic characteristics.

The preceding code is expressed in a type description language (TDL) used by the Lisp-based LKB (and its C++ counterpart, PET, which are unification-based parsers that produce a chart of plausible parses with some efficiency.  What is given above is already deeper than what you can expect from a statistical parser (but richer descriptions of lexical entries promises to make statistical parsing much better, too).

Unfortunately, there is no available documentation on why the ERG was designed as it is, so the meaning of the above is difficult to interpret.  For example, the types of lexical entries (the symbols ending in ‘_le’) referenced above are defined as follows:

  1. aj_pp_i-cmp-sme_le := basic_adj_comp_lexent & [SYNSEM[LOCAL[CAT[HEAD superl_adj &[PRD -,MOD <[LOCAL.CAT.VAL.SPR <[–MIN def_or_demon_q_rel]>]>],VAL.SPR.FIRST.–MIN much_deg_rel],CONT.RELS <!relation,relation!>],MODIFD.LPERIPH bool,LKEYS[ALTKEYREL.PRED comp_equal_rel,–COMPKEY _as_p_comp_rel]]].
  2. aj_-_i-prd-ndpt_le := nonc-hm-nab & [SYNSEM basic_adj_abstr_lex_synsem & [LOCAL[CAT[HEAD adj & [PRD +,MINORS[MIN norm_adj_rel,NORM norm_rel],TAM #tam,MOD < anti_synsem_min >],VAL[SPR.FIRST anti_synsem_min,COMPS < >],POSTHD +],CONT[HOOK[LTOP #ltop,INDEX #arg0 &[E #tam],XARG #xarg],RELS <! #keyrel & adj_relation !>,HCONS <! !>]],NONLOC non-local_none,MODIFD notmod &[LPERIPH bool],LKEYS.KEYREL #keyrel &[LBL #ltop,ARG0 #arg0,ARG1 #xarg & non_expl-ind]]].

Needless to say, that’s a mouthful!  Chasing this down, the following ‘informs’ us that “the same”, which uses type #2 above, is defined using the following lexical types:

  1. nonc-hm-nab := nonc-h-nab & mcna.
  2. nonc-h-nab := nonconj & hc-to-phr & non_affix_bearing.
  3. mcna := word & [ SYNSEM.LOCAL.CAT.MC na ].

Which is to say that it is non-conjunctive, complements a head to form a phrase, can’t be affixed, cannot constitute a main clause, and is a word.

The fact that the lexical entry for “the same” is adjectival is given the definition of the following type(s) used in the SYNSEM feature:

  1. basic_adj_comp_lexent := compar_superl_adj_word & [SYNSEM adj_unsp_ind_twoarg_synsem & [LOCAL[CAT.VAL[COMPS <canonical_or_unexpressed & [–MIN #cmin,LOCAL [CAT basic_pp_cat,CONJ cnil,CONT.HOOK [LTOP #ltop,INDEX #ind]]]>],CONT.HOOK [ LTOP #ltop, XARG #xarg]],LKEYS [ KEYREL.ARG1 #xarg,ALTKEYREL.ARG2 #ind,–COMPKEY #cmin]]].b
  2. compar_superl_adj_word := nonc-hm-nab & [SYNSEM adj_unsp_ind_synsem & [LOCAL[CAT[HEAD[MOD <[–SIND #ind & non_expl]>,TAM #tam,MINORS.MIN abstr_adj_rel],VAL.SPR.FIRST.LOCAL.CONT.HOOK.XARG #altarg0],CONT[HOOK[XARG #ind,INDEX #arg0 & [E #tam]],RELS.LIST <[LBL #hand,ARG1 #ind],#altkeyrel & [LBL #hand,ARG0 event & #altarg0,ARG1 #arg0],…>]],LKEYS.ALTKEYREL #altkeyrel]].

Which is to say that it is a comparative or superlative adjectival word (even though it consists of two lexemes in its ‘orthography’) that involves two semantic arguments including one complement which may be unexpressed prepositional phrase.  A comparative or superlative adjective, in turn, is non-conjunctive, complements a head to form a phrase, is non-affix bearing (?), and non-clausal, as defined by the type ‘nonc-hm-nab’ above.

The types used in the syntax and semantic (i.e., SYNSEM) feature of the two lexical types are defined as follows (none of which is documented):

  1. adj_unsp_ind_twoarg_synsem := adj_unsp_ind_synsem & two_arg.
  2. adj_unsp_ind_synsem := basic_adj_lex_synsem & lex_synsem & adj_synsem_lex_or_phrase & isect_synsem & [LOCAL.CONT.HOOK.INDEX #ind,LKEYS.KEYREL.ARG0 #ind].

In a moment, we’ll discuss the types used in the second of these, but first, some basics on the semantics that are mixed with the syntax above.

In effect, the above indicates that a new ‘elementary predication’ will be needed in the MRS to represent the adjectival relationship in the logic derived in the course of parsing (i.e., that’s what ‘unsp_ind’ means, although it’s not documented, which I will try not to bemoan much further.)

The following indicates that the newly formed elementary predicate is not (initially) within any scope and that it has two arguments whose semantics (i.e., their RELations) are concatenated for propagation into the list of elementary predications that will constitute the MRS for any parses found.

  1. two_arg := basic_two_arg & [LOCAL.CONT.HCONS <! !>].
  2. basic_two_arg := unspec_two_arg & lex_synsem.
  3. unspec_two_arg := basic_lex_synsem & [LOCAL.ARG-S <[LOCAL.CONT.HOOK.–SLTOP #sltop,NONLOC [SLASH[LIST #smiddle,LAST #slast],REL [LIST #rmiddle,LAST #rlast],QUE[LIST #qmiddle,LAST #qlast]]],[LOCAL.CONT.HOOK.–SLTOP #sltop, NONLOC[SLASH[LIST #sfirst,LAST #smiddle],REL[LIST #rfirst,LAST #rmiddle],QUE[LIST #qfirst,LAST #qmiddle]]]>,LOCAL.CONT.HOOK.–SLTOP #sltop,NONLOC[SLASH[LIST #sfirst,LAST #slast],REL[LIST #rfirst,LAST #rlast],QUE[LIST #qfirst,LAST #qlast]]].
  4. lex_synsem := basic_lex_synsem & [LEX +].

The last of these expresses that the constuction is lexical rather than phrasal (which includes clausal in the ERG).

Continuing with the definition of “the same” as an adjective, the following finally clarifies what it means to be a basic adjective:

  1. basic_adj_lex_synsem := basic_adj_abstr_lex_synsem & [LOCAL[ARG-S <#spr . #comps>,CAT[HEAD adj_or_intadj,VAL[SPR<#spr & synsem_min &[–MIN degree_rel,LOCAL[CAT[VAL[SPR *olist*,SPEC <[LOCAL.CAT.HS-LEX #hslex]>],MC na],CONT.HOOK.LTOP #ltop],NONLOC.SLASH 0-dlist,OPT +],anti_synsem_min &[–MIN degree_rel]>,COMPS #comps],HS-LEX #hslex],CONT.RELS.LIST <#keyrel,…>],LKEYS.KEYREL #keyrel & [LBL #ltop]].

Well, ‘clarifies’ might not have been the right word!  Essentially, it indicates that the adjective may have an optional degree specifier (which semantically modifies the predicate of the adjective) and that the predicate specified in the lexical entry becomes the predicate used in the MRS.  The rest is defined below:

  1. basic_adj_abstr_lex_synsem := basic_adj_synsem_lex_or_phrase & abstr_lex_synsem & [LOCAL.CONT.RELS.LIST.FIRST basic_adj_relation].
  2. basic_adj_synsem_lex_or_phrase := canonical_synsem & [LOCAL[AGR #agr,CAT[HEAD[MINORS.MIN basic_adj_rel],VAL[SUBJ <>,SPCMPS <>]],CONT.HOOK[INDEX non_conj_sement,XARG #agr]]].
  3. canonical_synsem := expressed_synsem & canonical_or_unexpressed.
  4. expressed_synsem := synsem.
  5. canonical_or_unexpressed := synsem_min0.
  6. synsem_min0 := synsem_min & [LOCAL mod_local,NONLOC non-local_min].

Which ends with a bunch of basic setup types except for constraining for relation for an adjective to be ‘basically adjectivally’ on the first two lines.  Also on these first two lines, it specifies that its subject and its specifier, if any, must be completed (i.e., empty) and agree with its non-conjunctive argument (which is not to say that it cannot be conjunctive, but that it modifies the conjunction as a whole, if so.)  Whether or not it is expressed will determine if there are any further predicates about its arguments or if its unexpressed argument is identified by an otherwise unreferenced variable in any resulting MRS.

The lexical grounding of this type specification is given below, indicating that it may (or not) have phonology (e.g., pronunciation, such as whether its onset is voiced) and if and how and with what punctuation it may appear, if any.  In general, a semantic argument may be lexical or phrasal and optional but if it appears it corresponds to some semantic index (think variable) in sort of predicate in any resulting MRS.  (The *_min types do not constrain the values of their features any further).

  1. basic_lex_synsem := abstr_lex_synsem & lex_or_nonlex_synsem.
  2. abstr_lex_synsem := canonical_lex_or_phrase_synsem & [LKEYS lexkeys].
  3. canonical_lex_or_phrase_synsem := canonical_synsem & lex_or_phrase.
  4. lex_or_phrase := synsem_min2.
  5. synsem_min2 := synsem_min1 & [LEX luk,MODIFD xmod_min,PHON phon_min,PUNCT punctuation_min].
  6. synsem_min1 := synsem_min0 & [OPT bool,–MIN predsort,–SIND *top*].
  7. adj_synsem_lex_or_phrase := basic_adj_synsem_lex_or_phrase &[LOCAL[CAT.HEAD.MOD <synsem_min &[LOCAL[CAT[HEAD basic_nom_or_ttl & [POSS -],VAL[SUBJ <>,SPR.FIRST synsem &[–MIN quant_or_deg_rel],COMPS <>],MC na],CONJ cnil],–SIND #ind]>,CONT.HOOK.XARG #ind]].

Note that an adjective is not possess-able and that it modifies something nominal (or a title) and that if it has a specifier that it is a quantifier or degree (e.g., ‘very’).  Again, an adjective cannot function as a main clause or be conjunctive (in and of itself).

Finally, if you look far above you will see that the basic semantics of an adjective with an additional semantic argument is ‘intersective’, as in:

  1. isect_synsem := abstr_lex_synsem & [LOCAL[CAT.HEAD.MOD <[LOCAL intersective_mod,NONLOC.REL 0-dlist]>,CONT.HOOK.LTOP #hand],LKEYS.KEYREL.LBL #hand].

Here, the length 0 difference list and the following definitions indicate that intersective semantics do not accept anything but local modification:

  1. intersective_mod := mod_local.
  2. mod_local := *avm*.

AVM stands for ‘attribute value matrix’, which is the structure by which types and their features are defined (with nesting and unification constraints using # to indicate equality).

By now you’re probably getting the idea that there is fairly significant model of the English language, including its lexical and syntactic aspects, but if you look there is a lot about semantics here, too.

Recruiting: IBM Ilog vs. JBoss Drools

I received notice of a Victorian government position offering $106k, as follows, today:

BRMS Developer (WebSphere ILOG JRules)

You will have proven experience as a BRMS Developer within a Java/JEE environment using IBM‘s WebSphere ILOG JRules platform. You will have implementation experience using integration technologies (e.g. Web Services, JMS) and have the ability to liaise with and engage key stakeholders.  Ideally you will also have knowledge and/or exposure to IBM‘s WebSphere integration suite (including the MQ Series).

This got a reaction out of me since we’re looking for people (although emphasizing logic, semantics, and English rather than any particular engine).  At first, I thought it must be a Java job, but stakeholder engagement indicates this is a full-fledged knowledge engineering position.

$100k for anyone with strong, specific experience seems low.  For someone that can understand objectives and translate requirements into operational business logic, it seems lower.

I’m surprised there isn’t more of an Ilog premium, too.  JBoss Drools consultants can make more than this.

Blaze down in Fair Isaac’s Q1 2012

FICO reported 9% growth in revenues year over year.

  • the bulk of revenues and all the growth was in pre-configured Decision Management applications
  • FICO score revenues were half as much, w/ B2B growing as B2C (myFICO) waned
  • tools revenues were less than half again as much and flat
    • optimization (XPress) was up
    • Blaze Advisor was down

This is in sharp contrast to the success that Ilog has enjoyed under the IBM umbrella.

Blaze Advisor doesn’t seem to make sense as a stand-alone tool any more.   Applications are great, and so are combinations of BI/optimization/rules, but if the BRMS tool will survive independently it needs to find more traction, perhaps outside of Fair Isaac.

Accenture, Public Policy and Governance at Oracle

Some time ago I spoke with public sector leadership at Oracle and Accenture about  applications in Health and Human Services.   Oracle was already my client with what was then Haley Authority (now Oracle Policy Automation) integrated within Siebel CRM.  Lagan was also one of my clients who competed with Oracle and others, such as Curam Software, for public sector case management applications.  It was obvious then that then market-leading approach of Curam Software, which largely relied on IBM Global Services to codify the policies that determine eligibility and levels of benefit for various programs would not be viable for much longer.  Oracle and Lagan were going to change the playing field with a more accessible and knowledge-centric approach based in Haley’s natural language business rules management system. 

There was a current battle going on in one state (Kansas, as I recall) among these three companies which went Oracle’s way thanks to Accenture and support from Haley.  We were also working with them on a larger opportunity in Ontario.  (more…)

$50/hr for Ilog work?

I can hardly believe posts like this one in Charlotte requiring 6 years or more of IT.   Two weeks ago I talked with a recruiter looking for consulting-to-hire people with significant Ilog experience at under $100 / hr in the DC area.  Is this what happens when you cross the chasm?  I guess it never hurts to ask!

Rule and event-driven business process M&A

On the heels of IBM’s acquisition of Lombardi comes Progress Software’s acquisition of Savvion.  The salient similarities are that IBM is adding BPM applications to its middleware stack as is Progress, at least with regard to its enterprise service bus offerings.  More interesting is the relationship between Progress’ complex event processing software and Savvion’s BPM.  Also of note is the vendor-provided integration of JBOSS Rules within Savvion versus the unrealized potential of IBM’s Ilog with respect to Lombardi.

We’ve written several times about the artificial distinction between CEP and BPM, their inevitable convergence, and the immature integration of business rules with business process management and event processing that inhibits knowledge-driven governance and decisioning. (more…)

Ron Ross’ Business Rule Concepts

Ron Ross was kind enough to send me a copy of his recently publishd 3rd edition of his book, Business Rule Concepts.  Ron has been at the forefront of mainstreaming business rule capture for decades.  Personally, I am most fond of his leadership in establishing the Object Management Group’s Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Rules standard (OMG’s SBVR).  This book is an indispensible backgrounder and introduction to the concepts necessary to effectively manage business rules using this standard.