The qualitative representation of physical systems

Enrico Coiera*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The representation of physical systems using qualitative formalisms is examined in this review, with an emphasis on recent developments in the area. The push to develop reasoning systems incorporating deep knowledge originally focused on naive physical representations, but has now shifted to more formal ones based on qualitative mathematics. The qualitative differential constraint formalism used in systems like QSIM is examined, and current efforts to link this to competing representations like Qualitative Process Theory are noted. Inference and representation are intertwined, and the decision to represent notions like causality explicitly, or infer it from other properties, has shifted as the field has developed. The evolution of causal and functional representations is thus examined. Finally, a growing body of work that allows reasoning systems to utilize multiple representations of a system is identified. Dimensions along which multiple model hierarchies could be constructed are examined, including mode of behaviour, granularity, ontology, and representational depth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-77
Number of pages23
JournalThe Knowledge Engineering Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes


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