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Confessions of a production rule vendor (part 2)

Going on 5 years ago, I wrote part 1.  Now, finally, it’s time for the rest of the story.


“Only full page color ads can run on the back cover of the New York Times Magazine.”

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.)


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…)

Financial industry to define standards using defeasible logic and semantic web technologies

Last week, I attended the FIBO (Financial Business Industry Ontology) Technology Summit along with 60 others.

The effort is building an ontology of fundamental concepts in the financial services. As part of the effort, there is surprisingly clear understanding that for the resulting representation to be useful, there is a need for logical and rule-based functionality that does not fit within OWL (the web ontology language standard) or SWRL (a simple semantic web rule language). In discussing how to meet the reasoning and information processing needs of consumers of FIBO, there was surprisingly rapid agreement that the functionality of Flora-2 was most promising for use in defining and exemplifying the use of the emerging standard. Endorsers including Benjamin Grosof and myself, along with a team from SRI International. Others had a number of excellent questions, such as concerning open- vs. closed-world semantics, which are addressed by support for the well-founded semantics in Flora-2 and XSB.

Thanks go to Vulcan for making the improvements to Flora and XSB that have been developed in Project Halo available to all!

Pedagogical applications of proofs of answers to questions

In Vulcan’s Project Halo, we developed means of extracting the structure of logical proofs that answer advanced placement (AP) questions in biology.  For example, the following shows a proof that separation of chromatids occurs during prophase.

textual explanation of entailment using the Linguist and SILK

This explanation was generated using capabilities of SILK built on those described in A SILK Graphical UI for Defeasible Reasoning, with a Biology Causal Process Example.  That paper gives more details on how the proof structures of questions answered in Project Sherlock are available for enhancing the suggested questions of Inquire (which is described in this post, which includes further references).  SILK justifications are produced using a number of higher-order axioms expressed using Flora‘s higher-order logic syntax, HiLog.  These meta rules determine which logical axioms can or do result in a literal.  (A literal is an positive or negative atomic formula, such as a fact, which can be true, false, or unknown.  Something is unknown if it is not proven as true or false.  For more details, you can read about the well-founded semantics, which is supported by XSB. Flora is implemented in XSB.)

Now how does all this relate to pedagogy in future derivatives of electronic learning software or textbooks, such as Inquire?

Well, here’s a use case: (more…)

Background for our Semantic Technology 2013 presentation

In the spring of 2012, Vulcan engaged Automata for a knowledge acquisition (KA) experiment.  This article provides background on the context of that experiment and what the results portend for artificial intelligence applications, especially in the areas of education.  Vulcan presented some of the award-winning work referenced here at an AI conference, including a demonstration of the electronic textbook discussed below.  There is a video of that presentation here.  The introductory remarks are interesting but not pertinent to this article.

Background on Vulcan’s Project Halo

Background on Vulcan's Project Halo

From 2002 to 2004, Vulcan developed a Halo Pilot that could correctly answer between 30% and 50% of the questions on advanced placement (AP) tests in chemistry.  The approaches relied on sophisticated approaches to formal knowledge representation and expert knowledge engineering.  Of three teams, Cycorp fared the worst and SRI fared the best in this competition.  SRI’s system performed at the level of scoring a 3 on the AP, which corresponds to earning course credit at many universities.  The consensus view at that time was that achieving a score of 4 on the AP was feasible with limited additional effort.  However, the cost per page for this level of performance was roughly $10,000, which needed to be reduced significantly before Vulcan’s objective of a Digital Aristotle could be considered viable.


Semantic Technology & Business Conference (SemTechBiz)

Benjamin Grosof and I will be presenting the following review of recent work at Vulcan towards Digital Aristotle as part of Project Halo at SemTechBiz in San Francisco the first week of June.

Acquiring deep knowledge from text

We show how users can rapidly specify large bodies of deep logical knowledge starting from practically unconstrained natural language text.

English sentences are semi-automatically interpreted into  predicate calculus formulas, and logic programs in SILK, an expressive knowledge representation (KR) and reasoning system which tolerates practically inevitable logical inconsistencies arising in large knowledge bases acquired from and maintained by distributed users possessing varying linguistic and semantic skill sets who collaboratively disambiguate grammar, logical quantification and scope, co-references, and word senses.

The resulting logic is generated as Rulelog, a draft standard under W3C Rule Interchange Format’s Framework for Logical Dialects, and relies on SILK’s support for FOL-like formulas, polynomial-time inference, and exceptions to answer questions such as those found in advanced placement exams.

We present a case study in understanding cell biology based on a first-year college level textbook.

Deep QA

Our efforts at acquiring deep knowledge from a college biology text have enabled us to answer a number of questions that are beyond what has been previously demonstrated.

For example, we’re answering questions like:

  1. Are the passage ways provided by channel proteins hydrophilic or hydrophobic?
  2. Will a blood cell in a hypertonic environment burst?
  3. If a Paramecium swims from a hypotonic environment to an isotonic environment, will its contractile vacuole become more active?

A couple of these are at higher levels on the Bloom scale of cognitive skills than Watson can reach (which is significantly higher than search engines).

As some other posts have shown in images, we can translate completely natural sentences into formal logic.  We actually do the reasoning using Vulcan’s SILK, which has great capabilities, including defeasibility.  We can also output to RIF or SBVR, but the temporal aspects and various things such as modality and the need for defeasibility favor SILK or Cyc for the best reasoning and QA performance.

One thing in particular is worth noting:  this approach does better with causality and temporal logic than is typically considered by most controlled natural language systems, whether they are translating to a business rules engine or a logic formalism, such as first order or description logic.  The approach promises better application development and knowledge management capabilities for more of the business process management and complex event processing markets.

Logic from the English of Science, Government, and Business

Our software is translating even long and complicated sentences from regulations to textbooks into formal logic (i.e,, not necessarily first-order logic, but more general predicate calculus).   As you can see below, we can translate this understanding into various logical formalisms including defeasible first-order logic, which we are applying in Vulcan’s Project Halo.  This includes classical first-order logic and related standards such as RIF or SBVR, as well as building or extending an ontology or description logic (e.g., OWL-DL).

We’re excited about these capabilities in various applications, such as in advancing science and education at Vulcan and formally understanding, analyzing and automating policy and regulations in enterprises.

English translated into predicate calculus

English translated into predicate calculus

a sentence understood by Automata

an unambiguously, formally understood sentence

English translated into SILK and Prolog

English translated into SILK and Prolog

Project Sherlock

Working as part of Vulcan’s Project Halo[1], Automata is applying a natural language understanding system that translates carefully formulated sentences into formal logic so as to answer questions that typically require deeper knowledge and inference than demonstrated by Watson.

The objective over the next three quarters is to acquire enough knowledge from the 9th edition of Campbell’s Biology textbook to demonstrate three things.

  • First, that the resulting system answers, for example, biology advanced placement (AP) exam questions more competently than existing systems (e.g., Aura[2] or Inquire[3]).
  • Second, that knowledge from certain parts of the textbook is effectively translated from English into formal knowledge with sufficient breadth and depth of coverage and semantics.
  • Third, that the knowledge acquisition process proves efficacious and accessible to less than highly skilled knowledge engineers so as to accelerate knowledge acquisition beyond 2012.

Included in the second of these is a substantial ontology of background knowledge expected of students in order to comprehend the selected parts of the textbook using a combination of OWL, logic, and English sentences from sources other than the textbook.

Automata is hiring logicians, linguists, and biologists to work as consultants, contracts, or employees for:

  • Interactive tree-banking and word-sense disambiguation of several thousand sentences.[4]
  • Extending its lexical ontology and a broad-coverage grammar of English with additional vocabulary and deeper semantics, especially concerning cellular biology and related scientific knowledge including chemistry, physics, and math.
  • Maturing its upper and middle ontology of domain independent knowledge using OWL in combination with various other technologies, including description logic, first-order logic, high-order logic, modal logic, and defeasible logic.[5]
  • Enhancing its platform for text-driven knowledge engineering towards a collaborative wiki-like architecture for self-aware content in scientific education and biomedical applications.

Terms of engagement are flexible; ranging from small units of work to full-time employment.  We are based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Vulcan is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, but the team is distributed across the country and overseas.

Please contact Paul Haley by e-mail to his first name at this domain.

[1] Vulcan:; Project Halo:
Video introduction/overview :

[2] Aura:

[3] Inquire:

[4] tree-banking and WSD: and

[5] e.g., SILK ( ) and SBVR (