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History of Knowledge Representation

In computer science, particularly artificial intelligence, a number of representations have been devised to structure information.

KR is most commonly used to refer to representations intended for processing by modern computers, and in particular, for representations consisting of explicit objects (the class of all elephants, or Clyde a certain individual), and of assertions or claims about them (‘Clyde is an elephant’, or ‘all elephants are grey’). Representing knowledge in such explicit form enables computers to draw conclusions from knowledge already stored (‘Clyde is grey’).

Many KR methods were tried in the 1970s and early 1980s, such as heuristic question-answering, neural networks, theorem proving, and expert systems, with varying success. Medical diagnosis (e.g., Mycin) was a major application area, as were games such as chess.

In the 1980s, formal computer knowledge representation languages and systems arose. Major projects attempted to encode wide bodies of general knowledge; for example the “Cyc” project (still ongoing) went through a large encyclopedia, encoding not the information itself, but the information a reader would need in order to understand the encyclopedia: naive physics; notions of time, causality, motivation; commonplace objects and classes of objects.

Through such work, the difficulty of KR came to be better appreciated. In computational linguistics, meanwhile, much larger databases of language information were being built, and these, along with great increases in computer speed and capacity, made deeper KR more feasible.

Several programming languages have been developed that are oriented to KR. Prolog developed in 1972, but popularized much later, represents propositions and basic logic, and can derive conclusions from known premises. KL-ONE (1980s) is more specifically aimed at knowledge representation itself. In 1995, the Dublin Core standard of metadata was conceived.

In the electronic document world, languages were being developed to represent the structure of documents, such as SGML (from which HTML descended) and later XML. These facilitated information retrieval and data mining efforts, which have in recent years begun to relate to knowledge representation.

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