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Means-ends analysis

Means-ends analysis

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Means-Ends Analysis is a technique used in Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 for controlling search in problem solving
Problem solving
Problem solving is a mental process and is part of the larger problem process that includes problem finding and problem shaping. Consideredthe most complex of all intellectual functions, problem solving has been defined as higher-order cognitive process that requires the modulation and control of...

 computer programs.

It is also a technique used at least since the 1950s as a creativity tool, most frequently mentioned in engineering books on design methods. Means-Ends Analysis is also a way to clarify one's thoughts when embarking on a mathematical proof
Mathematical proof
In mathematics, a proof is a convincing demonstration that some mathematical statement is necessarily true. Proofs are obtained from deductive reasoning, rather than from inductive or empirical arguments. That is, a proof must demonstrate that a statement is true in all cases, without a single...

.

Problem-solving as search


An important aspect of intelligent behavior as studied in AI is goal-based problem solving, a framework in which the solution of a problem can be described by finding a sequence of actions that lead to a desirable goal. A goal-seeking system is supposed to be connected to its outside environment by sensory channels through which it receives information about the environment and motor channels through which it acts on the environment. (The term "afferent" is used to describe "inward" sensory flows, and "efferent" is used to describe "outward" motor commands.) In addition, the system has some means of storing in a memory information about the state of the environment (afferent information) and information about actions (efferent information). Ability to attain goals depends on building up associations, simple or complex, between particular changes in states and particular actions that will bring these changes about. Search is the process of discovery and assembly of sequences of actions that will lead from a given state to a desired state. While this strategy may be appropriate for machine learning and problem solving, it is not always suggested for humans (e.g. cognitive load
Cognitive load
The term cognitive load is used in cognitive psychology to illustrate the load related to the executive control of working memory . Theories contend that during complex learning activities the amount of information and interactions that must be processed simultaneously can either under-load, or...

 theory and its implications).

How MEA works


The MEA technique is a strategy to control search in problem-solving. Given a current state and a goal state, an action is chosen which will reduce the difference between the two. The action is performed on the current state to produce a new state, and the process is recursively applied to this new state and the goal state.

Note that, in order for MEA to be effective, the goal-seeking system must have a means of associating to any kind of detectable difference those actions that are relevant to reducing that difference. It must also have means for detecting the progress it is making (the changes in the differences between the actual and the desired state), as some attempted sequences of actions may fail and, hence, some alternate sequences may be tried.

When knowledge is available concerning the importance of differences, the most important difference is selected first to further improve the average performance of MEA over other brute-force search strategies. However, even without the ordering of differences according to importance, MEA improves over other search heuristics (again in the average case) by focusing the problem solving on the actual differences between the current state and that of the goal.

Some AI systems using MEA


The MEA technique as a problem-solving strategy was first introduced in 1963 by Allen Newell
Allen Newell
Allen Newell was a researcher in computer science and cognitive psychology at the RAND corporation and at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, Tepper School of Business, and Department of Psychology...

 and Herbert Simon
Herbert Simon
Herbert Alexander Simon was an American political scientist, economist, sociologist, and psychologist, and professor—most notably at Carnegie Mellon University—whose research ranged across the fields of cognitive psychology, cognitive science, computer science, public administration, economics,...

 in their computer problem-solving program General Problem Solver
General Problem Solver
General Problem Solver was a computer program created in 1959 by Herbert Simon, J.C. Shaw, and Allen Newell intended to work as a universal problem solver machine. Any formalized symbolic problem can be solved, in principle, by GPS. For instance: theorems proof, geometric problems and chess...

 (GPS). In that implementation, the correspondence between differences and actions, also called operators, is provided a priori as knowledge in the system. (In GPS this knowledge was in the form of table of connections.)

When the action and side-effects of applying an operator are penetrable, the search may select the relevant operators by inspection of the operators and do without a table of connections. This latter case, of which the canonical example is STRIPS
STRIPS
In artificial intelligence, STRIPS is an automated planner developed by Richard Fikes and Nils Nilsson in 1971. The same name was later used to refer to the formal language of the inputs to this planner...

, an automated planning computer program, allows task-independent correlation of differences to the operators which reduce them.

Prodigy, a problem solver developed in a larger learning-assisted automated planning project started at Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University is a private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States....

 by Jaime Carbonell, Steven Minton and Craig Knoblock, is another system that used MEA.

Professor Morten Lind, at Technical University of Denmark
Technical University of Denmark
The Technical University of Denmark , often simply referred to as DTU, is a university just north of Copenhagen, Denmark. It was founded in 1829 at the initiative of Hans Christian Ørsted as Denmark's first polytechnic, and is today ranked among Europe's leading engineering institutions, and the...

 has developed a tool called multilevel flow modeling MFM. It performs means-end based diagnostic reasoning for industrial control and automation systems.

See also

  • Causal layered analysis
    Causal layered analysis
    Causal layered analysis is one of several futures techniques used as a means to inquire into the causes of social phenomena and to generate a set of forecasts as to the future course of the phenomena....

  • Knowledge representation
    Knowledge representation
    Knowledge representation is an area of artificial intelligence research aimed at representing knowledge in symbols to facilitate inferencing from those knowledge elements, creating new elements of knowledge...

  • Automated reasoning
    Automated reasoning
    Automated reasoning is an area of computer science dedicated to understand different aspects of reasoning. The study in automated reasoning helps produce software which allows computers to reason completely, or nearly completely, automatically...

  • Intelligent control
    Intelligent control
    Intelligent control is a class of control techniques, that use various AI computing approaches like neural networks, Bayesian probability, fuzzy logic, machine learning, evolutionary computation and genetic algorithms.- Overview :...

  • Cognitive load
    Cognitive load
    The term cognitive load is used in cognitive psychology to illustrate the load related to the executive control of working memory . Theories contend that during complex learning activities the amount of information and interactions that must be processed simultaneously can either under-load, or...

  • Mathematical proof
    Mathematical proof
    In mathematics, a proof is a convincing demonstration that some mathematical statement is necessarily true. Proofs are obtained from deductive reasoning, rather than from inductive or empirical arguments. That is, a proof must demonstrate that a statement is true in all cases, without a single...

  • Polytely
    Polytely
    Polytely can be described as frequently, complex problem-solving situations characterized by the presence of not one, but several goals, endings.Modern societies face an increasing incidence of various complex problems...