Journal of Classification 14:177-179 (1997)

Benjamin Kuipers' book on qualitative reasoning is the outcome of years of endeavor in understanding human commonsense and expert reasoning. While the book presents material published previously, mainly as journal articles, it is decidedly much more than a simple compilation. The book organizes the material logically, introduces elementary concepts in the first two chapters and builds on them in subsequent chapters. The lucid style and presentation will make the material accessible to a larger audience, and its form and content make it ideal for a graduate level course. The material of the book was previously available only in academic journals or compilations, the exception being Werthner's (1994) relatively concise book which surveys the field of qualitative reasoning.

The field of qualitative reasoning has matured considerably since the early 1980's and deserves the attention of researchers and practitioners in areas besides artificial intelligence (AI). A qualitative description is one that identifies and highlights relevant distinctions and disregards others. For example, the statement "It's raining too heavily to drive on the highway" is a qualitative description of current driving conditions.

Qualitative reasoning uses qualitative descriptions, which often include causal relationships, to solve a problem. It has been successfully applied to application areas such as design and diagnosis of engines, fault detection, and business planning. Qualitative reasoning is concerned with dynamic systems and their behavior and assumes that these systems can be decomposed into related entities, and a description of their behavior and interrelationships. Another implicit assumption is the idea of causality, that is, of cause-effect relationships among entities. Since qualitative reasoning is motivated by the need to model real world situations or physical systems in order to support, and in some instances mimic an engineer's reasoning process there are three primary approaches to qualitative reasoning (Werthner 1994). These are:

Kuipers' book is on qualitative reasoning about physical mechanisms, such as thermostats or hydraulic pumps, and presents a unified theoretical framework for such reasoning using the constraint-based approach. The framework presented is the QSIM algorithm and representation for qualitative differential equations and simulations. This framework facilitates the tasks of qualitative reasoning which are monitoring, diagnosis, design, planning, and explanation of physical systems.

The qualitative model must have a means of representing incomplete knowledge and partial knowledge about attributes such as quantity or change. Partial knowledge of quantity can be represented using interval arithmetic, ordinal values, landmark values like freezing and boiling, or fuzzy values such as hot and cold. Partial knowledge of change can be represented using discrete state graphs, or differential equations.

The QSIM qualitative model provides an explicit mechanism for the abstraction of differential equations resulting in a qualitative representation called qualitative differential equation (QDE). Chapter 2 introduces the QSIM representation for QDEs and the algorithm for qualitative simulation using the U-tube, a two-tank fluid flow system. The qualitative structure of the system is thus given by the qualitative constraints, their values, and the quantity spaces of their variables. The qualitative state of the system is dynamic and is described by the variables, their magnitude, and a direction of change. A qualitative simulation is performed by specifying an initial state, i.e. the magnitudes and direction of change of all independent variables, and then determining the effect of any qualitative change by using the qualitative constraints.

The QSIM representation and solution of qualitative constraints are discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 4 also introduces two well-known problem solving methods in AI, namely constraint propogation and constraint satisfaction. It discusses the application of these methods in solving qualitative constraints.

Chapters 7 and 8 discuss reasoning with the steady-state assumption, i.e., a system tends to be in a state of equilibrium. The behavior of interest is the effect of a small perturbation to the system on an equilibrium state. The perturbation may result in a region transition. A transition is determined by the region of applicability of a QDE and a new state is entered if the limit of applicability is reached. Region transitions and their use in qualitative simulations are described in Chapter 8.

One of the benefits of qualitative reasoning is that it facilitates the refinement of incomplete quantitative knowledge. Reasoning with a combination of qualitative and incomplete quantitative knowledge, called semiquantitative reasoning, is the topic of Chapter 9. This is an extension to QSIM which makes it particularly useful for model-based reasoning tasks such as diagnosis, monitoring, and design. Chapter 10 onwards deals with advanced topics in qualitative reasoning such as time-scale abstraction, higher-order derivatives, and global dynamic constraints.

Overall the book is extremely well written. The book assumes, and requires, a fairly strong knowledge of AI; one beyond that provided by a typical introductory undergraduate course. For those with the relevant background, or strong motivation, the book will be an excellent resource. It has been written as a textbook with thought-provoking practice and research problems at the end of each chapter. The organization of chapters is excellent, starting with a gentle introduction and then increasing in detail and complexity, while building on the material of earlier chapters. Given the significant advances and successes in the field of qualitative reasoning this book is a very timely one and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in AI, in general, and modeling and simulation, in particular.

Jayant Sharma
University of Maine


Reviewer's address: Jayant Sharma, Oracle Corporation, 110 Spit Brook Road, Nashua, NH 03062, USA.

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