Qualitative Process Theory

Unknown author (1984-07-01)

Objects move, collide, flow, bend, heat up, cool down, stretch, compress and boil. These and other things that cause changes in objects over time are intuitively characterized as processes. To understand common sense physical reasoning and make programs that interact with the physical world as well as people do we must understand qualitative reasoning about processes, when they will occur, their effects, and when they will stop. Qualitative Process theory defines a simple notion of physical process that appears useful as a language in which to write dynamical theories. Reasoning about processes also motivates a new qualitative representation for quantity in terms of inequalities, called quantity space. This report describes the basic concepts of Qualitative Process theory, several different kinds of reasoning that can be performed with them, and discusses its impact on other issues in common sense reasoning about the physical world, such as causal reasoning and measurement interpretation. Several extended examples illustrate the utility of the theory, including figuring out that a boiler can blow up, that an oscillator with friction will eventually stop, and how to say that you can pull with a string but not push with it. This report also describes GIZMO, an implemented computer program which uses Qualitative Process theory to make predictions and interpret simple measurements. The represnetations and algorithms used in GIZMO are described in detail, and illustrated using several examples.