The Complexity of Theory Revision

Russell Greiner

A knowledge-based expert system uses its database (a.k.a. its "theory") to produce answers to the queries it receives. Unfortunately, these systems will produce inaccurate answers if their theories include erroneous information. Standard "theory revision" systems use a given set of "labeled queries" (each a query paired with its correct answer) to incrementally transform the given theory, by adding and/or deleting either rules and/or antecedents, into a related one that is as accurate as possible. This paper uses both sample and computational complexity arguments to analyze this process. After formally defining the theory revision task, we use the observation that we have access to only a limited number of labeled queries to constrain the space of new theories that can be considered; in particular, we describe when a polynomial number of such queries will be sufficient to obtain the information required to identify a theory whose accuracy is close to optimal with high probability. We then consider the computational complexity of finding the best theory within this space, and prove that, unless P=NP, no polynomial time algorithm can identify this near-optimal theory, even given the exact distribution of queries. We also present conditions under which a polynomial-time algorithm can produce a theory whose (in)accuracy is even close (ie, within a particular polynomial factor) to optimal. These results justify the standard practice of using these types of transformations to hill-climb to a locally-optimal theory, based on a given set of labeled samples.

  • Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI95), Montreal, August 1995.

  • Artificial Intelligence Journal, accepted subject to revision