Explain What is Abductive Inference?

Explain is the component of Mistral that performs abductive inference (or abduction). Given a formula and another formula , abduction is the problem of finding an explanatory hypothesis such that: and is satisfiable. In contrast to logical deduction which reaches valid conclusions from a set of premises, abduction is used to infer likely premises for a given conclusion. In general, there are many solutions to an abductive inference problem, but typically, concise and general solutions are more desirable than others. The abductive solutions computed by Explain are guaranteed to contain a minimum number of variables among all other abductive solutions. Furthermore, among other solutions that contain the same set of variables, the solutions computed by Explain are as logically weak as possible.

Using Explain

To perform abductive inference, use the abduce functions in Constraint.h. Here is an example illustrating a typical usage of abduction:

  Term* x = VariableTerm::make("x");
Term* y = VariableTerm::make("y");
Term* z = VariableTerm::make("z");

Constraint c1(x, ConstantTerm::make(0), ATOM_LEQ);
Constraint c2(y, ConstantTerm::make(1), ATOM_GT);
Constraint premises = c1 & c2;

map<Term*, long int> elems;
elems[x] = 2;
elems[y] = -1;
elems[z] = 3;
Term* t = ArithmeticTerm::make(elems);
Constraint conclusion(t, ConstantTerm::make(10), ATOM_LEQ);

Constraint explanation = conclusion.abduce(premises);
cout << "Explanation: " << explanation << endl;


Here, constraint c1 represents the formula x<=0, and c2 represents the formula y > 1. Hence, the constraint premises represents x<=0 & y > 1. The constraint conclusion stands for the formula 2x - y +3z <=10. Here, we use the abduce function to find a formula called "explanation" such that premises and explanation together imply the conclusion and the premises and explanation are consistent with each other. For this example, the solution that is computed by Explain (and printed out at the last line) is x<=4.

Explain also supports computing abductive solutions that must be consistent with a set of given formulas. For example, suppose that we want the abductive solution to be consistent with z > 1 as well as x < 2. In this case, we can create a set of consistency requirements and pass it as an argument to abduce. The following code snippet illustrates this functionality:

Constraint c3(z, ConstantTerm::make(1), ATOM_GT);
Constraint c4(x, ConstantTerm::make(2), ATOM_LT);
set<Constraint> reqs;
reqs.insert(c3);
reqs.insert(c4);
explanation = conclusion.abduce(premises, reqs);


In this case, Explain will ensure that the computed abductive solution is consistent with every formula in the set reqs.

Finally, in some cases, we might prefer abductive solutions that contain certain variables over others. For instance, in our earlier example, we might want abductive solutions containing variables z,y over solutions that contain x. For this reason, Explain allows specifying costs for each variable. Here is an example illustrating this functionality:

map<Term*, int> costs;
costs[x] = 5;
costs[y] = 1;
costs[z] = 1;
explanation = conclusion.abduce(premises, reqs, costs);


In this case, since the cost of x is higher than the sum of the costs of y,z Explain will return solutions that contain both y and z rather than solutions that contain only x.