Precisiated Natural Language (PNL)

Lotfi A. Zadeh


This article is a sequel to an article titled "A New Direction in AI -- Toward a Computational Theory of Perceptions," which appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of AI Magazine (volume 22, No. 1, 73-84). The concept of precisiated natural language (PNL) was briefly introduced in that article, and PNL was employed as a basis for computation with perceptions. In what follows, the conceptual structure of PNL is described in greater detail, and PNL's role in knowledge representation, deduction, and concept definition is outlined and illustrated by examples. What should be understood is that PNL is in its initial stages of development and that the exposition that follows is an outline of the basic ideas that underlie PNL rather than a definitive theory. A natural language is basically a system for describing perceptions. Perceptions, such as perceptions of distance, height, weight, color, temperature, similarity, likelihood, relevance, and most other attributes of physical and mental objects are intrinsically imprecise, reflecting the bounded ability of sensory organs, and ultimately the brain, to resolve detail and store information. In this perspective, the imprecision of natural languages is a direct consequence of the imprecision of perceptions (Zadeh 1999, 2000). How can a natural language be precisiated -- precisiated in the sense of making it possible to treat propositions drawn from a natural language as objects of computation? This is what PNL attempts to do. In PNL, precisiation is accomplished through translation into what is termed a precisiation language. In the case of PNL, the precisiation language is the generalized-constraint language (GCL), a language whose elements are so-called generalized constraints and their combinations. What distinguishes GCL from languages such as Prolog, LISP, SQL, and, more generally, languages associated with various logical systems, for example, predicate logic, modal logic, and so on, is its much higher expressive power. The conceptual structure of PNL mirrors two fundamental facets of human cognition: (a) partiality and (b) granularity (Zadeh 1997). Partiality relates to the fact that most human concepts are not bivalent, that is, are a matter of degree. Thus, we have partial understanding, partial truth, partial possibility, partial certainty, partial similarity, and partial relevance, to cite a few examples. Similarly, granularity and granulation relate to clumping of values of attributes, forming granules with words as labels, for example, young, middle-aged, and old as labels of granules of age. Existing approaches to natural language processing are based on bivalent logic -- a logic in which shading of truth is not allowed. PNL abandons bivalence. By so doing, PNL frees itself from limitations imposed by bivalence and categoricity, and opens the door to new approaches for dealing with long-standing problems in AI and related fields (Novak 1991). At this juncture, PNL is in its initial stages of development. As it matures, PNL is likely to find a variety of applications, especially in the realms of world knowledge representation, concept definition, deduction, decision, search, and question answering.

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