The hunt for new abstractions


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September 28, 2001: “The Hunt for New Abstractions: Notational Engineering and Ultra-Structure”. Talk given at the University of Utah.

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The hunt for new abstractions

  1. 1. Cover Page   The Hunt for New  Abstractions  Author: Jeffrey G. Long ( Date: September 28, 2001 Forum: Talk presented at the University of Utah.   Contents Pages 1‐2: Proposal and Bio Pages 3‐24: Slides intermixed with text for presentation   License This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit‐nc/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.  Uploaded June 27, 2011 
  2. 2. Title: The Need for New Abstractions: Notational Engineering and Ultra‐Structure  Author: Jeffrey G. Long Date: September 28, 2001 Estimated time: 60 minutes (45 for talk, 15 for Q&A  As an introduction, this talk will present the thesis that in order to understand complex systems, and to adequately respond to many of the other challenges facing our civilization today, we will need to develop wholly new abstractions and thus wholly new notational systems.  Civilizations have traditionally developed notational systems by accident rather than systematically, so the hunt for new abstractions could be greatly facilitated by the systematic study of the history and evolution of a variety of types of notational system, e.g. the branches of mathematics, language and writing, musical notation, chemical notation, movement and dance notation, and money. In particular this search would be helped by a good general theory of the structure of notational revolutions, such as the introduction of Hindu‐Arabic numerals or the infinitesimal calculus.  This proposed new subject of "notational engineering" would have as a primary goal the development and systematic testing of new abstractions in many areas, including (e.g.) new ways of representing value besides money, and new ways of representing complex systems besides the current tools of mathematics, computer science and natural language.   The talk will then present a theory of representation called "Ultra‐Structure Theory".  This theory sees entities, structures and relationships as by‐products of complex processes, and postulates that every process can be represented by a finite but possibly large set of rules.  It further hypothesizes that rules in any format can be converted into an If/Then format, and can be placed into a series of tables based on the particular form of the rules, i.e. how many "If" columns there are, and how many "Then" columns there are, and what the columns refer to.  These place‐value tables are called "ruleforms", and they constitute a fundamental new abstraction which offers a practical and formal, yet highly abstract and concise way of organizing and representing myriad numbers of rules.    Ultra‐Structure Theory aims to represent all world‐knowledge in tables of data rather than in the software of the system, so that the remaining software is "merely" an inference engine that has very little subject‐specific knowledge.  Ultra‐Structure Theory thus constitutes a merger of expert system and relational database theories which minimizes the need for software maintenance and maximizes system flexibility.  One prediction resulting from the use of the ruleform abstraction is that all the members of each broad class of systems (e.g. all corporations, all games, all legal systems, and perhaps all biological systems) differ from each other in terms of the specific rules governing their behavior, but not in the form of these rules.  In other words, families of systems share the same "deep structure" or collection of 
  3. 3. ruleforms.  Ultra‐Structure Theory should be a serious candidate for a new and general approach to representing any kind of complex rule‐driven system.  BIO: Mr. Long is a Systems Scientist for the National Security Programs division of DynCorp, a Washington consulting and services firm. He is currently working with the Department of Energy to apply Ultra‐Structure Theory to the computer understanding of natural language (English) text for purposes of classification and declassification.  Prior to that he worked at The George Washington University as a Senior Research Scientist, first as director of the Notational Engineering Laboratory and then also as Deputy Director of the Declassification Productivity Research Center.  He holds a BA degree in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.     
  4. 4. The Hunt for NewAbstractions: NotationalEngineering and Ultra-Structure Jeffrey G. Long September 28, 2001 j ffl @ l
  5. 5. We Have Never Really StudiedNotational Systems per se All systems can be categorized into four types: y g yp  Formal: syntax only, e.g. formal logic, formal language theory, pure mathematics  Informal: semantics only, e.g. art, advertising, politics, religious symbols  Notational: both syntax and semantics, e g semantics e.g. natural language, musical notation, money, cartography  Subsymbolic: neither syntax nor semantics, e.g. natural systemsSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 2
  6. 6. We may have competence in using certain kinds of y p g complex systems but we still don’t understand them  climate and weather  economics, finance, markets , ,  medicine, physiology, biology, ecology This is not because of the nature of the systems but systems, rather because our notational systems – our abstractions -- are inadequate Complexity is not a property of systems; rather, perplexity is a property of the observerSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 3
  7. 7. These problems cannot be solved by working harder, harder using faster computers, or moving to OO techniques Many if not most problems today are fundamentally representational in character Using the wrong, or too-limited, a notational system is inescapably self-defeating p y gSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 4
  8. 8. Each primary notational system maps a different “abstraction space”  Abstraction spaces are incommensurable  Perceiving these is a unique human ability Abstraction spaces are discoveries, not inventions  Abstraction spaces are real Acquiring literacy in a notation is learning how to see a new abstraction spaceSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 5
  9. 9. So Far We Have Settled Maybe y12 Major Abstraction SpacesSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 6
  10. 10. All higher forms of thinking require the use of one or g g q more notational systems The notational systems we habitually use influence the manner in which we perceive our environment: our picture of the universe shifts as we acquire literacy in new notational systems Notational systems have been central to the evolution of the modern mind and modern civilizationSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 7
  11. 11. Every notational system has limitations: a y y “complexity barrier” The problems we face now as a civilization are, in many cases, notational We need a more systematic way to develop and settle abstraction spaces: notational engineeringSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 8
  12. 12. Current Analysis Methods WorkOnly Under Certain ConditionsSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 9
  13. 13. Rules are a Broader Way ofDescribing Things Multi-notational: can include all other notational systems Explicitly E li itl contingent ti t Describe both behavior and mechanism Thousands or millions can be assembled and acted upon by computerSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 10
  14. 14. And Complex Rules Can be Stored asData in a Relational Database Ultra-Structure Theory is a general theory of systems representation, developed/tested starting 1985 Focuses on optimal computer representation of F ti l t t ti f complex, conditional and changing rules Based on a new abstraction called ruleforms The breakthrough was to find the unchanging features of changing systemsSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 11
  15. 15. The Theory Offers a Different Way toLookL k at Complex S C l Systems and Pd Processes observable behaviors surface structure generates rules middle structure constrainsform of rulesf f l deep structure September 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 12
  16. 16. Hypothesis: Any Type of Statement Can yp y ypBe Reformulated into an If-Then Rule Natural language statements Musical scores Logical arguments Business processes Architectural drawings Mathematical statementsSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 13
  17. 17. Rules Can be Represented inPlace-Value (Tabular) Form Place value assigns meaning based on content and location  In Hindu-Arabic numerals, this is column position  In ruleforms, this is column position ruleforms Thousands of rules can fit in same ruleform There are multiple basic ruleforms, not just one  But the total number is still small (<100?)September 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 14
  18. 18. Structured and Ultra-StructuredData are Different Structured data separates algorithms and data, and is good for data processing and information retrieval tasks,e.g. reports, queries, data entry Ultra-Structured data has only rules, formatted in a manner that allows a small software engine to reason with them using standard deductive logic “Animation” ft “A i ti ” software h littl or no knowledge of has little k l d f the external worldSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 15
  19. 19. This Creates New Levels for Analysis yand Representation Standard Terminology (if any) Ultra-Structure Instance Ultra-Structure Level U-S Implementation Name Name behavior, physical entities particular(s) surface structure system behavior and relationships, processes rules, laws, constraints, rule(s) middle structure data and some guidelines, rules of thumb software (animation procedures) (no standard or common ruleform(s) deep structure tables term) (no standard or common universal(s) sub-structure attributes, fields term) tokens, signs or symbols token(s) notational structure character setSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 16
  20. 20. The Ruleform Hypothesis Complex system structures are created by not- necessarily complex processes; and these il l d th processes are created by the animation of operating rules. Operating rules can be grouped into a small number of classes whose form is i ll b f l h f i prescribed by "ruleforms". While the operating rules of a system change over time, the ruleforms remain constant. A well-designed collection of i ll d i d ll i f ruleforms can anticipate all logically possible operating rules that might apply to the system, and constitutes the deep structure of the system. d h d f hSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 17
  21. 21. The CoRE Hypothesis We can create “Competency Rule Engines”, or CoREs, C RE consisting of <50 ruleforms, th t are i ti f 50 l f that sufficient to represent all rules found among systems sharing broad family resemblances, e.g. all corporations. Their definitive d ti Th i d fi iti deep structure will b t t ill be permanent, unchanging, and robust for all members of the family, whose differences in manifest structures and b h i d behaviors will b represented entirely ill be d i l as differences in operating rules. The animation procedures for each engine will be relatively simple compared to current applications, requiring less than 100,000 lines of code in a third generation language.September 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 18
  22. 22. The Deep Structure of a System p ySpecifies its Ontology What is common among all systems of type X? What is the fundamental nature of type X systems? What are the primary processes and entities involved in type X systems? What makes systems of type X different from systems of type Y? If we can answer these questions about a system, then we have achieved real understandingSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 19
  23. 23. Suggestion 1 To advance our mental capabilities as a species, and to address the problems we currently face as a civilization, civilization we must systematically and comparatively study notational systems to create wholly new abstractions and thereby revolutionary new notational systems. s stems This is the goal of notational engineering. engineeringSeptember 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 20
  24. 24. Suggestion 2 One example of a new abstraction is ruleforms To ruleforms. truly understand complex systems, we must get beyond appearances (surface structure) and rules (middle structure) to the ruleforms (deep structure) and beyond. This is the goal of Ultra-Structure Theory.September 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 21
  25. 25. References Long, J., and Denning, D., “Ultra-Structure: A design theory for complex systems and processes.” In C l d ” Communications of the i i f h ACM (January 1995) Long, J., “Representing emergence with rules: The limits of addition. addition ” In Lasker, G E. and Farre G L (editors) Advances Lasker G. E Farre, G. L. (editors), in Synergetics, Volume I: Systems Research on Emergence. (1996) Long, J., “A new notation for representing business and other g, , p g rules.” In Long, J. (guest editor), Semiotica Special Issue: Notational Engineering, Volume 125-1/3 (1999) Long, J., “How could the notation be the limitation?” In Long, J. (guest editor), S i ti S ( t dit ) Semiotica Special Issue: Notational Engineering, i lI N t ti lE i i Volume 125-1/3 (1999)September 28, 2001 Copyright 2001 Jeff Long 22