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Case-Based versus Rule-Based Problem Solving

Beginning in the late 1950s, the dominant AI approach to problem solving was exemplified by
the GENERAL PROBLEM SOLVER of Allen Newell and Herbert Simon. Their LOGIC
THEORIST had been the first program capable of proving theorems and constituted a
remarkable breakthrough in the use of digital computers for symbol processing, that is, for
general purpose "information processing." The GENERAL PROBLEM SOLVER was far more
flexible than LOGIC THEORIST, based on strict logical inference rules, because its problemsolving engine also employed heuristic rules in the form of general heuristics containing no
specific knowledge of the problem domain. The program worked by means-ends analysis, that
is, by identifying the relevant difference between the goal situation and the present situation and
then applying operators to reduce that difference. However, given the Western celebration of
the power of universal reason and general methods of science, GENERAL PROBLEM
SOLVER turned out to be surprisingly limited in application.
The 1970s saw the emergence of a new generation of more powerful AI problem-solvers, under
the rubrics "expert systems" and "knowledge-based reasoning." These systems abandoned
the idea of content-free, more-or-less a priori rules in favor of local, knowledge-intensive
programs, programs that "know" something about the specific domain in question. According
to Edward Feigenbaum, one of the principals in this development,
There is a kind of 'law of nature' operating that relates problem solving generality (breadth of
applicability) inversely to power (solution successes, efficiency, etc.) and power directly to
specificity (task-specific information).
In what form do expert systems incorporate domain-specific knowledge, and where does this
knowledge come from? The idea is to elicit from human experts the specific rules and
strategies they employ in their domains of expertise. Expert systems are therefore still rulebased (RB) systems, only the rules are now content-specific heuristics. Feigenbaum and
associates demonstrated the promise of knowledge-based, expert systems with their
DENDRAL programs, which determine molecular structures in organic compounds from their
chemical formulas and mass spectrographs.
Although many rule-based expert systems are in existence today, in science and industry, by the
mid-1980s recurrent difficulties had deflated the early enthusiasm for this approach. (a) It turns
out to be very difficult to elicit good rules from the experts, the so-called "knowledge elicitation
bottleneck." (Compare Kuhn on the attempt to elicit rules from practicing scientists.)
Exceptions to proposed rules keep coming to light when the experts are given additional
problems. In other words (just as Kuhn had warned), proposed rule sets are not reliably
predictive of how the experts will handle new cases, even cases of a known, routine sort.
Moreover, in most cases the experts report that they do not consciously employ rules, or only
occasionally. Rather, they claim to rely upon their experience, their trained intuitive judgment.
(b) Expert systems work best for relatively simple and well-structured domains for which we
possess a strong theory or causal model. They work poorly, if at all, for ill-structured domains.
(c) Covering a complex domain, or any domain involving ill-structured problems or commonsense knowledge, can require huge numbers of rules—thousands or even hundreds of


however familiar. including several relevant to our Kuhn discussion. Case-based reasoning (CBR) offers several potential advantages over the rule-based reasoning (RBR) of expert systems.unr. That http://wolfweb. they retain important contextual features and thus remain more concrete and more context-sensitive than the individual rules of a knowledge-based system. by generating new rules or from previous mistakes. instead of building on solutions previously gained. Their speed drops quickly as more rules are added. the system does not attempt to solve it from scratch. Ironically. Intelligible (humanly usable) explanations can be more difficult for RBR and virtually impossible for "connectionist" systems that employ subconceptual processing (but see my next section). While some of these difficulties have diminished with faster computing machines. they are poor models of learning processes. e. (d) Unlike RB systems. When a problem is presented. (h) Therefore. agreement is more easily achieved and knowledge is more easily taught when the domain knowledge is implicit rather than explicit. CB systems learn from experience. as a derivation from the rules.5/11/2014 CBR thousands. Although cases are abstracted and stylized in this manner. both positive and negative. from scratch. Routine (identical) problems can be solved immediately.htm 2/5 . some combining case-based with expert systems. (g) Furthermore. recalled. (c) CBR can be orders of magnitude faster than RBR because it relies heavily on past experience and does not constantly "reinvent the wheel. There are a great variety of approaches. which has emerged into prominence only in the last dozen years. (a) Knowledge of concrete cases is more easily elicited from experts. CB systems learn from experience in a natural way. it is difficult to know when such a system is complete enough to be reliable. They do not learn from experience. (i) They are also inefficient since they solve all problems. a more promising approach for many applications is case-based reasoning (CBR). The chief characteristics of a Kuhnian community—fullness of communication and unanimity of agreement—are far more easily achieved in terms of cases than rules. Less routine problems may require some combination and/or deformation of the previous cases and perhaps of the new problem as well. This development roughly parallels Kuhn's implicit reversal of Piaget's claim that thinking becomes more abstract and less concrete as it undergoes transition to its mature stages. How much abstraction is needed to achieve useful CBR systems (or to achieve psychological validity in human-animal performance) remains an issue in the field." Stored cases provide solution templates for current problems. virtually cost-free explanation or rationale for its solutions or decisions. in view of ceteris paribus difficulties. (b) CBR offers a direct. interaction problems are not as serious as for RBR. Even an axiomatic system builds on previously proved theorems.edu/homepage/nickles/sts/CBR. simply by calling up the old solution. by recycling the lessons. Instead. and sets of problems in textbooks are precisely repositories of such cases. as a RB system would. Successful new cases but also important failures are added to the case library. completed RB systems are basically static. and perhaps modified easily. for it is impossible to foresee all interaction effects. (d) RB systems do not "scale" well. it employs some sort of similarity metric to find one or more cases similar to the presented case (or else reports back that it is coming up blank). Rather. taught.g.. Case-based (CB) systems work by storing cases in a case base or case library. selected features are abstracted and represented in a data structure integrated with an indexing scheme and similarity metric that permits cases fitting desired specifications to be located." While new cases can conflict with old. in order to obtain a suitable fit. and (e) it is difficult to add new rules without producing troublesome conflicts within the system. Cases are usually not "raw memories" akin to Humean impressions. and research on CBR continues to develop rapidly. (f) Yet. learned from experience and (e) by more readily accepting new cases and corrections from experts or "outside authorities. What counts as a case varies greatly from system to system. and learned.

" (In this respect as well as in its tolerance of weak domain models. but CBR can be useful from the very first case in the library. And as j. not only the concrete-case level. and so we have CBR at the methodological level. This point holds independently of the question whether our cognitive abilities are rule-based at a subconscious. namely. including the frontiers of research. whereas RB procedures (including scientific laws) are produced by a process of abstraction from contextual detail that requires knowing how to resupply (or to fit) the relevant local detail upon application. Kuhn himself never denied that implementation would be in terms of lawful. rules are especially bad at solving novel problems. the processing time of the better CB systems still increases (usually no worse than linearly) with number of cases in the case base. this means that CBR is more linear and cumulative than RBR. Skilled performance is often "immediate" and intuitive. by highlighting the differences between a given problem case and stored cases. "Derivational adaptation" is methodologically interesting and fits much scientific practice. replay the method used to find the original solution rather than the solution itself. CBR similarly fails to explain how the original variety of cases in the case library got there in the first place. neural mechanisms. CBR reverses the AI trend toward systems that are ever more knowledge intensive. http://wolfweb.edu/homepage/nickles/sts/CBR. whereas RBR and expert systems are typically motivated by universal extrapolations from a small sample of cases. if not rule-like. The method is case specific and hence very local. CBR still provides a sort of analysis. rule-based systems. (i) In furnishing some contextual detail. The solution will vary with the relevant details of the current problem. there are two different ways in which CB systems can solve problems. Actually. (h) Although it tends to be more holistic than RBR. although it can aid such discovery. We have already met "structural" or "substitutional adaptation": find and recycle or modify already available solutions. CBR can be safer and more realistic because it does not immediately generalize far beyond the relatively concrete cases in its library. In a vast range of cases. increasing the size of the base slows RB systems more than CB systems. But after being primed with some cases. providing a flexible way to adapt previous work to current problems. (g) CBR thus helps bridge the gap between knowledge-that and knowledge-how. This is a problem. (l) Overall. Ironically for the Kuhn discussion. CBR is often cheaper and less brittle than RBR. thus generating a set of subproblems. for the human response time for many tasks decreases to practically nil.htm 3/5 . for they are not easily adapted to fit new situations. or set of rules. since every case is "realistic.5/11/2014 CBR is. Such a holistic sort of problem decomposition then invites a second round of CBR "cut and paste" problem solving to handle the remaining subproblems. CBR provides more "off the shelf" help for current problems. Since such a method can be considered a rule. indicates.unr. CBR provides a surrogate for logic of discovery. Vaguely similar to Plato's theory of learning and inquiry as reminiscence. See the next section. then. RBR requires a certain completeness in the set of rules in order to be reliable. CBR is more nearly "monotonic" than RBR: additions to the system do not degrade it (as much). this process is reminiscent of generative. implementation level. An important difference is that the method is identified by means of stored cases. However. (f) CBR seems closer to how human beings go about solving problems and developing innovative practices. it is far more natural for us to adapt previous solutions or practices than to attempt to formulate systems of rules (a sort of discovery logic) that can generate problem solutions.) In general. CBR systems are less subject to massive pollution or contamination by rapid error propagation. This is a great advantage since the problem of finding a workable method is already solved. (j) Because of more rapid conflict propagation through the system. Thus CBR is more useful in theoretically "weak" domains. CBR is not a magical logic of discovery that solves every problem at the frontier. CBR degrades more gracefully than RBR. (k) CB systems scale better than rule-based systems. The stored cases are linked to (sometimes local) methods and not (only) specific solutions. CBR is more creative than Plato's model.

whence very little learning can occur. is whiggish. in relying on past experience. Revolutionary breakthroughs are often “rule-breaking. like all adaptation of inherited resources to current concerns. CBR is more likely to than RBR. the solution of which derived in turn from Galileo's problem of the simple pendulum and the isomorphic problem of balls rolling down and up inclined planes. CBR also invites us to yield to heuristic biases of concreteness. including clinical psychology. CBR does have biases." as working "with blinders on." as doing mop-up work. The domain is understood/controlled completely and is now sterile as far as innovative work is concerned. Further. While CBR is conservative in inviting us to see new problems as similar to old. CBR is more conservative than the "liberal" rule-based systems. In fact. CBR can degenerate into the "just one more case" syndrome in which new cases are unthinkingly lumped with old and treated too routinely.htm 4/5 . CBR can be computationally expensive. anecdotes unquestionably play a role in the lives of scientists. it is also antihistorical (whiggish) in forcing us to reinterpret old problems-plus-solutions in the light of our current difficulties. and the resulting genealogies of problems smack more of CBR than of RBR. Paul Feyerabend remarks. All inquiry is conducted in the present of those investigators and is constrained by their present concerns. Therefore. than RBR.unr. analogous to a thrown stone or a falling apple? Well. CBR is one important route— perhaps the most important—by which previous work is adapted to current problems. and in the hands of mechanical. Now this is often a good thing. rather than the other way around. all cognitive categorization schemes tend to heighten contrasts. and to substitute personal anecdote for reliable statistics when making judgments. On the other hand. unreliable though they might be. we could also speak of a systematic change in CBR as also breaking out of the old framework of concepts and practices. Similarly for other powerful analogies such as Bohr's solarsystem model of the atom and Kuhn's example of Daniel Bernoulli's reduction of the problem of the flow of water from an orifice to Huyghens's problem of the physical pendulum. and recentness. Of course. CBR begins from a current problem situation and seeks matches with past cases. In some cases. vividness. for it is useful only insofar as similar problems recur. so can RBR.” Or we speak of “breaking out of the old conceptual framework. for such an idea amounts to a problem reduction—the reduction of one problem or case to another. since rationalistic schemes can lose touch with the real world. CBR can be valuable indeed. CBR. Could CBR produce a major breakthrough. However. too. such as Newton's idea that the moon can be treated as a projectile. because less brittle. Such problem reductions are crucial to scientific progress. that is exactly Thomas Kuhn’s point in The http://wolfweb. Finally. note some connections to previous sections. Though CBR generally is cheaper and less risky.5/11/2014 CBR which in major respects is closer to an RB system. especially when rules are complete. and as forcing nature into preconceived boxes. unimaginative users. CBR. it may be an illusion to think that we are learning from experience. has built-in generality assumptions. They become important once scientific practice has been reintegrated with history. There is a tinge of this in Kuhn's speaking of normal scientists as "tradition bound.” Such revolutions alter the system of rules. Insofar as it depends on pattern matching. A relaxed similarity metric would permit such speculations.edu/homepage/nickles/sts/CBR. This tension between tradition and innovation is precisely what Kuhn labeled "the essential tension" of scientific research. While CBR can be conservative. And once the idea occurs. Anecdotes are unpopular among logicians who see science propelled by the rational use of rational principles.

they are more rhetorical and less logical. We seek. Ironically. Does the latter provide some sort of model for the creative human mind? Start with a finite number of elements and recombine them in order to achieve Cartesian “universal reason”? These are chemical recombinations and not simply physical ones. scientific method may turn out to be more rhetoric than logic! Addendum on combinatorial chemistry. To Handout List Tom Nickles: nickles@unr. Inspired by the human immune system. both more efficient than the old serial modification-and-test method. which allows even larger combinatorial experiments. Note that education or learning (theories and techniques of learning) can be viewed as engineering. Upshot: Insofar as science and engineering are CBR and not simply RBR. the other is mix-and-split.edu http://wolfweb. 1970).” by Matthew Plunkett and Jonathan Ellman. Two approaches. or around known leads. 2nd ed. conceptual (as when experts know a could deal of theoretical language and. Automation of systematic search for lead compounds.unr.htm To Tom Nickles's Home Page Contact 5/5 . April 1997: “Combinatorial Chemistry and New Drugs.) Note how use of reverse engineering from nature to inspire human engineering efforts. doctrinal (as when experts can state a number of technical facts and theories). One is parallel synthesis. tricky manipulations). technical sense—not the everyday sense) as to speak of the logic of science.edu/homepage/nickles/sts/CBR. to turn our minds and bodies into problem-solving devices of more-or-less specific kinds. S. physical analogy for empiricism. See article in Scientific American. It can be as illuminating to speak of the rhetoric of science (in this specific. and manual or more generally physical (as when experts have been trained to be adept at specific. Mill’s chemical vs. have their own technical vocabulary).5/11/2014 CBR Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962. (Recall J. in any case. This education and/or training is often perceptual (as when experts are trained to recognize immediately things that usually escape the notice of the lay person). through education and training.